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Tigers get ready for fall football

Quarterback Kelly Bryant practices Sunday, August 4, 2019, at Missouri's facility in Columbia. (Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com)

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant did his best Friday to diffuse the story that swept through college football earlier this week.

Or non-story if you ask Bryant.

Bryant will not receive a national championship ring from Clemson, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN’s Chris Low, a decision that seemed to send shockwaves through social media.

Bryant’s reaction?

“I’m at Mizzou,” he said after Friday’s practice on Faurot Field. “I moved past that. I turned the chapter on that. I’m pretty much all focused on Mizzou and the season we’re going on. A ring’s a ring. At the same time I’m at Missouri. I don’t pay any mind to that. Everyone else can make a story about it, which is not really a story to be made.”

Bryant started every game for Clemson in 2017, when the Tigers won 12 games, captured the ACC championship and reached the College Football Playoffs, then started the first four games last year while splitting snaps with freshman Trevor Lawrence. Swinney handed the starting job to Lawrence after the fourth game, a move that allowed Bryant to take advantage of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule that allows players to preserve a year of eligibility if they play four games or fewer in a given season. Bryant chose to leave Clemson and pick a new school to spend his final year of eligibility. The Tigers, meanwhile, stayed unbeaten behind Lawrence all the way to the national championship. Even though Bryant played a major role in the season’s first four wins — and was the catalyst in a Week 2 comeback victory at Texas A&M — Swinney made it clear Bryant wouldn’t receive a national championship ring.

"He wasn't on the team. You've gotta be on the team to get a ring," Swinney told ESPN. "I love Kelly and appreciate what he did for us, but he decided to move on."

Those comments ignited a storm of opinions on Twitter the last couple days, from college football national writers to TV analysts to fans of various programs.

Though they haven’t talked since he chose Missouri in December, Bryant hasn’t indicated any bad blood between him and Swinney. The Clemson coach gushed all over his former quarterback when visiting the Cardinals spring training facility in Jupiter, Fla., saying he’ll root for Bryant and Mizzou this season.

"He’s a great person first of all,” Swinney said in March. “He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around. He is truly a wonderful kid. Very smart. Very good student. He obviously graduated early with us. Just a high-character young man who is a really, really good player. He can run. He led us to an ACC championship in his first year as a starter. Went 12-2 that year. He’s a hard worker, he’s a committed guy, he’s a guy who will be a great teammate. I’m happy for him. It was something that he really wanted to do. And it worked out. He’s in a good situation. He’ll do a great job. He’ll have a heck of a year.”

“He did everything – he went above and beyond and did everything you could ever ask of any young person in your program,” he added. “It’s just sometimes you get into some tough situations and at the end of the day there are decisions that have to be made. That is what stinks about my job. Sometimes people are happy with those decisions, some people are unhappy with those decisions. But you have to make them. I’ll always pull for Kelly. I hope he has a phenomenal year. I’d love that nothing more. And he’ll have an opportunity to play after college. I don’t have any doubt about it.”

A ring’s a ring, as Bryant said, but does he still have his 2016 national championship ring?

“Oh, of course,” he said Friday. “I’ve got that at the house. Of course.”

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Dave Matter is the Mizzou beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.