From walk-on to starting wide receiver, fifth–year Brycen Tremayne embodies the hard and tireless work ethic needed to succeed on and off the field. As a leading player on the team this year, his Stanford story reminds us all what determination can do when working to achieve a goal. Last year, on pace to being a top-three receiver on the team, Tremayne sustained a gruesome ankle injury in an upset win over Oregon. After an offseason of rehabilitation and reflection, he came back to the gridiron to help lead the 2022 team. The former Burlsworth Trophy nominee and three-time Pac-12 All Academic Honor Roll member has battled through injury and worked his way up the depth chart to forever imprint his name in Stanford football history.
Prior to the start of the season, The Daily’s Noah Maltzman spoke to Tremayne about his walk-on journey, season-ending injury and Stanford experience as he finishes his last quarter on campus.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Let’s start with your freshman year walking on to Stanford. How has the process of walking on shaped you and how does that aspect of “walk-ons need to work harder to earn their spot” play into it?
Brycen Tremayne (BT): I feel like it shaped my journey, my whole journey, in a ton of ways. Number one, being one of the better guys in high school, and just starting every game and playing, then coming here to being a walk-on and having every single guy in front of you immediately — It’s just a pretty flip-flop crazy situation that you walk into. The world changes in an instant and it makes everything you have to work harder for. Everything you did individually or with the team, you’re trying to do perfectly. Getting on scout team obviously was a huge deal. I was working on scout team my whole freshman year and trying to prove to the coaches that I can play. I ended up getting scout team player of the year for the offense. That was actually a big goal of mine once I realized I wasn’t really going to play my freshman year. It was just to do as well as I could. And then going into my sophomore year, special teams was a huge, huge deal, because I knew that if I wanted to play on the offensive side that I had to be on multiple special teams packages first. So starting on five special teams going into my sophomore year and being in a few offensive packages helped me earn that scholarship in my sophomore year. And even once I did earn that scholarship for my sophomore, junior and senior years, I still felt like I was a walk-on at heart. I mean, I am a walk-on at heart. And I still carry that with me because I know I have to work 10 times harder to earn everything I have.
TSD: So would you say that there’s a difference between a walk-on player versus a scholarship player as soon as they come in terms of the vibe? In terms of attitude? Specifically, how do others, on the team or not, view them?
BT: I feel like at Stanford the players here treat pretty much every guy the same, walk-on or not. I think my class, in 2018, maybe had 10 walk-ons and then maybe 20-something scholarship players. And all the guys were super welcoming to all of us and they treated us like we’d been here for the whole summer, even though we got here during the week camp started, which was a few months later. They were super accommodating toward us and we became friends with everyone instantly. Obviously when you look at it from a football standpoint and when you come in as a walk-on, it is definitely different because you have to think that the school is investing a certain amount of money in the scholarship players so they’re gonna want to see them play. But at the end of the day, if you can play and you show your worth to the team and the coaches, you’re going to play.
TSD: Being a walk-on, there’s a lot more pressure because you’re showing your worth to the team, as you just said before. So did you take that off the field as well in terms of academics and in terms of social life at Stanford during your first few years?
BT: Off the field, it just kind of felt like I was just a normal student with everybody else. I tried to do the best I could in class just like I did on the football field. But in terms of trying to have to do better than everybody else, because I’m a walk-on, in class I didn’t feel that kind of pressure.
TSD: There was NFL interest for you last year. And then, of course, you sustained a season-ending injury against Oregon. Can you walk us through the injury just from your perspective of running the route and then going up for it?
BT: It was a play we had scripted that week. We had it the whole season but we knew we were gonna run it that week. And I was supposed to run a little route off the linebacker, or whoever was over me. There ended up actually being nobody over me. So I kind of just had free space in the middle. And I pretty much knew I was gonna get the ball and looked at Tanner [McKee], caught it at about two yards, and then just started running. Every time I got the ball, I was trying to do as much as I could and try to score so I’m running through the middle. I think I stiff-armed one guy, got spun around, got hit high on the right side, and then obviously the big hit was to the ankle, low on the left side. Immediately when I got hit I pretty much knew something was wrong right away because it hurt a lot more than other hits. So then I’m just like “Ah! Ah! Ah!” Just kind of just yelling. Then I looked down and that’s when I knew — I was like, “Okay, yeah, this is a big injury. That looks crazy.” And then I remember Elijah Higgins came over and held my hand, he’s like, “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay.” People were like, “Oh my god,” screaming and covering their faces. And then the doctor came over and reset my ankle on the field which took a few tries. But he did it and once he did that, it was instant relief from the actual pain of the injury, and it was just pretty much mental from there.
TSD: You said it is a lot of mental healing. So were there any standout things about the rehabilitation in terms of coming back from the injury? Is there anything of note about the rehabilitation?
BT: I guess the technology that they have to bring you back or something like that, when maybe 20, 30, 40 years ago if you had an injury like that you could say goodbye to football. So that’s pretty amazing in itself. And then, obviously, the rehabilitation with Floyd and the trainers downstairs with Haley, Nate and Andrew was just awesome the whole way through. They helped me so much with whatever I needed that day whether it was icing or soft tissue to try to lose and destroy the whole process. They helped me in every way.
TSD: So one of the things about an injury is losing motivation and losing that drive that, as a walk-on, brought you so far. It brought you to really glorious heights with recognition like the Burlsworth Trophy Watchlist and NFL scouting and more. So, during your time off the field, how did you stay motivated? How did you keep going toward that goal?
BT: I think it’s just seeing other guys come back from injuries. Because if everybody got injured and never came back, then it’d be pretty hard to stay motivated. But, seeing guys like Mike Wilson come back from his foot injury, or Jonathan McGill, who came back from his foot injury — seeing guys like that who come back looking even better than they were before, I think that’s what keeps you motivated and maybe even motivates you more than you were before, knowing how hard you have to work to get back to them and be better. So it’s guys like that who really increase your motivation throughout the process.
TSD: So there’s a lot of team inspiration?
BT: Oh, yeah, definitely. And Mike’s my roommate too. So I got to see the process firsthand.
TSD: You have potential NFL opportunities and you have your life in general at Stanford. So how are you feeling? What’s the game plan, if you will? And just expectations for this year.
BT: I mean, enjoy it. Enjoy my last quarter here at Stanford. I’m taking my last class right now, but it’s just enjoying my time here doing the best I can in football and trying to put myself in the best position for my future and help the team win in any way I can. So just doing my job in that sense too, because I’m pretty much done with school so I can focus entirely on football and just enjoy that. Not taking anything for granted because I know how quickly it can end.