So far, James Bryant a knockout as a boxer

James Bryant had been working at his new craft for nearly six months before finally making the call home.

While it might be true that no man intimidates the 6-3, 250-pound Reading High grad, apparently Bryant still fears his mother.

"The only thing that was his saving grace," Juanita Robins said, "was that I couldn't get my hands on him."

Robins was dead set against her son boxing when Bryant first asked her about it last summer. However, unbeknownst to Robins, Bryant joined the Heavyweight Factory in Hollywood, Fla., in August.

Two weeks before his Feb. 16 pro boxing debut, Bryant called Reading to let the cat out of the bag. Despite Robins' objections, Bryant went on to stop Roy Boykins in the first round at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

"When you can instill fear into another man's heart, it's always a great feeling," said Bryant, already sounding like a fighter. "My main goal was to go in there and threaten his well-being with my power, and that's what I went out there and did."

While Robins is uneasy with her son's new sport for now, she can take comfort in his assurances that it's only a temporary fling.

Bryant said he turned to boxing to help him prepare for another shot at the NFL. Playing on Sundays has been his lifelong pursuit, and Bryant refuses to toss in the towel on his dream.

He participated in a pro day March 3 at Florida International and said he'll work out in front of the scouts again March 23 at Louisville. Bryant's goal is to land an NFL free agent deal before his next scheduled fight, April 13.

"I'm solid," he said. "There's no reason I shouldn't be on somebody's NFL roster."

Bryant, 24, was a high school All-American and a blue-chip recruit out of Reading High, where he graduated in 2004. He chose Miami, where he played three seasons at linebacker and fullback before transferring to Louisville.

Unable to land a spot in an NFL camp last year, Bryant came home to join older brother Sam on the Reading Express indoor roster. He had an unsuccessful tryout in June with the upstart United Football League.

Bryant is optimistic about his chances this time around, however. He was happy about his showing at the March 3 pro day. He said he's also received offers from two Canadian Football League teams.

"There are so many options open for me right now in the football world," said Bryant, whose hip flexibility has improved through boxing training. "(Boxing) has made me a better football player and a better person. I've become a better football player by being in the ring."

Justin Montgomery began contacting Bryant about boxing last June through Facebook, the social networking site. Montgomery, a former collegiate football player, is a recruiter for the Heavyweight Factory.

Tired of watching Eastern Europeans dominate the sport's glamour division, South Florida businessman Kris Lawrence launched the Heavyweight Factory in 2006. He hopes to find the next Mike Tyson among a group of talented former football players.

Lawrence has sank some serious dough into his endeavor, one of a handful of similar programs that have sprung up in recent years. The subject of an ESPN The Magazine cover story in December, the Heavyweight Factory is easily the best known of the bunch.

The program is run out of the Lucky Street Boxing Gym, a state-of-the-art facility with three rings. The training staff is led by former heavyweight champ Michael Moorer.

Recruits who make the cut into the program are given paid housing and other expenses so they can focus solely on training. Bryant, for example, hasn't needed to work a full-time job to support himself.

Fueled by objections from his mother and other family members, Bryant initially shrugged off Montgomery's overtures. He changed his mind in mid-August, however, and has been a fixture at Lucky Street ever since.

"He's a freak," Moorer said. "For real. He works his (tail) off. He's 250 pounds, all muscle."

Bryant is the youngest mainstay in the program, which includes former Miami running back Quadtrine Hill (27) and former Arkansas, Alabama State and Memphis linebacker Carlton Baker (28). Bryant also feels he's the strongest and rates himself alongside Baker as the gym's top fighter.

Bryant gets to Lucky Street each day at 9:30 a.m. and works into the afternoon. He then goes to the beach in the afternoon for speed training before returning to the gym at night.

Bryant spends much of his time at Lucky Street studying the sport and working to perfect his technique. He often helps the veteran trainers prep younger fighters.

"I feel that I'm a very good technical boxer," said Bryant, a self-described boxer-puncher. "Without my technique, my power is nothing. But I'm going to try to go out and knock your face off your head."

"James is more of a puncher," Moorer said, disagreeing a bit. "James is very, very strong. Coming with the football background, James comes with a lot of power. With that power, hopefully we can develop it into finesse and boxing skills."

Moorer knows his time with Bryant is likely limited, though.

Bryant has been up front with the Heavyweight Factory about his NFL aspirations. Even if he can't get his football career off the canvas, Bryant said he won't turn from chasing quarterbacks to chasing title belts.

"It's not something you want to spend your life doing," said Bryant, who graduated from Miami in 2007 with degrees in sociology and justice administration and has also done some acting on the side.

"There's no reason for me to be in the ring getting my face beat in or for my body to absorb the punishment from the training," he said. "There's no need for it. I'm more than capable enough to make money without having to get my face beat in."

Though Bryant is approaching boxing with the seriousness of a seasoned pro, it is simply a means to an end, a crash course for his ultimate title shot.

His mother understands, but jokes that James better watch his back next time he comes home.

"He has to do what he has to do," Robins said. "Football was always his first passion. He'll do it until he's too old.

"I won't get in his way (with boxing). But I don't like it."

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