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Josh Bryant the weight-ing game

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One by one the 45-pound plates are slipped onto the bar. Three, five, seven ...

By the time the total reaches nine on each side, the curious eyes of other gym goers begin to focus in on Josh Bryant.

Bryant remains unfazed, cleanly squatting the 855 pounds with relative ease.

Muffled gasps from the small contingent gathered around him at Mavericks Gym in Ventura lend credence to the abilities of the 22-year-old Bryant, who holds three World Powerlifting Congress (WPO) world records.

"The reactions are usually favorable, I guess," said Bryant. "In some gyms you run into problems with management or get in trouble for bending a bar because of all the weight. But generally people are pretty friendly."

People are also pretty amazed at the feats of strength performed by the 6-foot, 308-pound Santa Barbara resident. None more so than the crowd on June 8 at the American Powerlifting Federation Senior Nationals in Universal City.

It was there Bryant set his three world records for the 308-pound weight class for juniors ages 20-23.

Bryant squatted 903.75 pounds, bettering the old record of 880, and bench pressed 622.75, bettering the old record of 618. With his 749.5 deadlift added in, he scored a record total of 2,276 to break the 2,160 standing record set in 1997. All four marks were also personal bests.

"I was pretty nervous going in because it was a real big meet and there were good lifters," said Bryant. "But once I got there, I had a real controlled rage. I was getting on the level of going psycho, but not to the point where I was wasting energy. It was great to PR (personal record), but I have got a lot of goals and stuff, so this was just like a steppingstone. I enjoyed the moment, but this is a steppingstone."

The next jump for Bryant will be at the WPO Professional Powerlifting semifinals in Atlanta at the GNC Show of Strength on Nov. 8.

Bryant had a chance to break 2,300 with his last deadlift of 777 locked, but he was called on a technicality.

"I knew I would be right around 2,300 because I know my body really well," said Bryant. "Unless something catastrophic happens, I always know about where I will be."

Bryant's interest in weightlifting began at age 12 while was training intensely for football, track and boxing. After graduating from Santa Barbara High, Bryant played one year of football at Moorpark College in 1999. He gave up the sport after an unwanted position change from fullback to guard, and decided to focus on powerlifting.

"In the ninth grade I had people come up to me and say that I had the potential to be the strongest person that ever lived," said Bryant. "It was two separate people right out of the blue, so I thought they could be on to something. I haven't missed a workout since November 1997."

The menacing pre-lift glare Bryant wears shouldn't be misconstrued as a personality staple. In fact, Bryant will happily offer training advice to any interested parties.

"When I am working out I get in a zone, but after I love answering people's questions," said Bryant, who hopes to become a strength and conditioning coach for a high school or college.

Bryant also doesn't mind clearing up the misconception that being big and strong automatically means you're using steroids.

"It is too bad people paint all powerlifters and strongmen with that type of brush. I don't like being stereotyped because of what some other people do," said Bryant, who relies on amino acids and protein powder. "I am big naturally, so I don't need that stuff. I just lift and do my thing."

After his world record performance at Universal City, Bryant flew to the Mountaineer Cup in West Virginia, where he earned his professional status.

"Now I am right in the hunt. I will be the youngest pro out there, though. It will be hard to get past the idea that I am competing head to head with guys whose pictures are on my wall," said Bryant.

That photographic collage includes pictures of Gary Frank, the owner of the highest all-time powerlifting point total of 2,640. Bryant trained with Frank for six months in Louisiana last year to pick up some tools of the trade.

With most powerlifters peaking in their 30s, does Bryant think he has a shot at Frank's record?

"I've got numbers in my head, but I don't want to share them because every time you share people call you a dreamer," said Bryant. "But what's that saying, 'If you shoot for the stars, you will still land on the moon if you miss.' That's how I feel."

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