Tim McCarty believed so strongly that Armonty Bryant had learned from his 2012 arrest for selling marijuana that he gave him the key to his house.
Because East Central (Okla.) University defensive end Bryant could no longer live on campus after he left school to train for the NFL Scouting Combine, the football coach let Bryant live with him for about two months.
McCarty said Bryant not only slept and showered there, but he sat around the dinner table with McCarty’s wife, Jillian, and teenage daughters Bailey and Kendall talking and laughing over pictures on their cellphones. The McCartys had also temporarily taken in two recently hired football coaches, which made for a rollicking group.
“He just blended right in,” McCarty said of Bryant. “It was a good thing for him, and it was a good thing for us, too. He stays with us whenever he needs to.”
After being so close to Bryant, McCarty doesn’t believe the Browns took a huge risk when they selected the defensive playmaker with a penchant for blocking kicks in the seventh round, No. 217 overall.
Bryant was suspended for three games last season after being arrested in October for selling $20 of marijuana twice to an undercover officer, both times in an ECU parking lot, according to the Ada (Okla.) News. Because the transactions came within 2,000 feet of a school, he was charged with a felony.
Bryant was given a suspended sentence, according to the newspaper, and can have the felony charge expunged if he follows the terms of his probation, which runs through Oct. 18, 2017.
“I know Cleveland got a heckuva football player,” McCarty said. “Most of the scouts told us he was second- or third-round in terms of his grade.
“He’s paid a price. He made a terrible decision. Moving forward, I think he’s 10 times the person now.”
McCarty believes Bryant was caught in a police sting.
“I think another college kid had gotten in trouble and was doing something and was calling guys,” McCarty said. “Armonty made a poor choice. He had passed all his [drug] tests with us.”
McCarty said Bryant was not arrested at practice, as has been reported, but in the training room before practice.
“It was humiliating, it didn’t matter where it was,” McCarty said. “I didn’t ask him how he felt about all of it, but I know how I felt. It’s devastating when a young man puts his life or his career in jeopardy by making a simple decision and doesn’t understand the ramifications. I’d stand on the table any day and say he’s a quality young man.”
A semester from graduating from the Division II school with a kinesiology degree, Bryant sounded determined to prove to the Browns he wouldn’t be a problem child. During a conference call after he was drafted, Bryant said he hadn’t expected to be selected.
“Good people make mistakes’ is something that I’ve always been told by my coach,” Bryant said a week ago. “I feel like it was just a stupid move on my part. I should have been more mature about the situation and be more focused on football, which is something I really want to do with my life.
“Now that I’ve gotten that second chance, I feel like I won’t let anyone down. I won’t let myself, the people around me or the Cleveland Browns down. I appreciate them for taking this chance on me.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said they sent defensive line coach Joe Cullen to work out Bryant and believe Bryant has matured.
“Looking into his background with coach Cullen out there, as well as our scouting staff, we felt like he is past the mistakes he has made and ready to move on,” Chudzinski said.
There are other concerns with Bryant. He said he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in January 2012, but did not bench press at the combine because of what he called “a minor tweaking” after the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game.
”I feel 100 percent right now, no issues whatsoever,” Bryant said.
Bryant also attended three colleges. A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, he started out at Abilene Christian but did not play because of academic issues. He spent one year at Cisco (Texas) Junior College. McCarty said he wouldn’t have known Bryant was leaving Cisco if he hadn’t just gotten a graduate assistant a job there.
In three years at East Central, which also produced the New York Jets’ Mark Gastineau, Bryant set a school record with 26.5 sacks. He also blocked nine kicks.
“A lot of people throw around the ‘it’ factor, and whatever it is, he has it in that area,” McCarty said. “He understands leverage and pad level and how to get push at that right spot.”
But Bryant, 6-foot-4 and 263 pounds, can do more than swat kicks.
“He’s a terrific athlete,” McCarty said. “He’s got great change of direction. He’s got a burst of speed, he’s got closing speed and he’s got general speed. He’s got a lot of pass-rush moves and knows how to finish plays.
“As a senior he only played in eight games and he was running wild out there.”
McCarty has three plays he’ll remember from Bryant’s time at East Central, with the best coming in his final game against Southeastern.
“Here comes the quarterback down the line. He grabs him with his right arm and the quarterback tries to figure out how to pitch. He pitches it and Armonty slaps it with his left arm, throws the quarterback down and scoops it up and runs  yards for a touchdown,” McCarty said.
“I’ve watched him defend the corner route and play man-to-man about 35 yards downfield and have a pass breakup in the corner of the end zone. His sophomore season I watched him jump and bat a ball and catch it and run 65 yards for a touchdown and outrun the receiver. The guy’s got some juice, now. He’s fun to watch.”
New Browns wide receiver Davone Bess’ three-year contract extension that secures him through the 2016 season is worth $11.5 million, including $5.75 million guaranteed, a league source confirmed for the Beacon Journal. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the Browns do not publicize the financial terms of player contracts.
The Browns acquired Bess, 27, this past weekend in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. The deal involved a swap of draft picks between the two teams.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.