Of the factors that lined up to send Kevin Byard to the Middle Tennessee State football team, most were beyond his control.
For one thing, the MTSU coaching staff had the foresight to offer him a scholarship. Most of the other Division I programs — including the Power Fives — haven’t lifted a finger. Kentucky was closest to the SEC by Byard, who invited him for a visit because he was interested in him as a wide receiver, then chose not to offer a scholarship anyway.
Oops, huh, UK?
“I wanted to be in the SEC,” Byard said. “…But once I knew it wasn’t going to work, MT was still there.
“Things work in mysterious ways.”
As Byard became an All-Pro defensive back for the Tennessee Titans, he also went on to represent the university where he played for four seasons, ending in 2015, and continued to give back to the Nashville area in which he thrived.
One of the most popular top players in Blue Raiders history has become one of the Titans’ most popular top players, making the following decision as simple and obvious as it is justified:
MTSU retires Byard’s No. 20 jersey number.
He will become only the second MTSU football player to be so honored, joining 1960s quarterback Teddy Morris, whose No. 14 was retired.
MTSU coach Rick Stockstill and other college officials honored Byard with an announcement after the Titans’ training camp practice Thursday. The ceremony is scheduled for September 30 during MTSU’s home game against UTSA.
“This honor is based on what he’s done here,” Stockstill said. The Tennessian. “It has nothing to do with what he did with the Titans. To me, that makes him even more special. …
“For me, it’s not just based on ‘What I did between the white lines.’ It’s everything he’s done in his five years here, how he’s represented this university, this program, and how he represents himself and his family.
When the star rating is wrong
Byard was a four-year starter at MTSU. He remains the program’s all-time leader in interceptions (19) and interception return yards (377). The Titans got a steal by selecting Byard in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Over the past five seasons, Byard hasn’t missed a game while quarterbacking for the Titans defense. Coach Mike Vrabel often points to him as an example for young players of what it takes to be successful in the NFL, to the point that Vrabel has sometimes asked Byard not to say anything in practice so teammates have to count. more about themselves.
“He’s the embodiment of what it means to be a Titan,” fellow Titans security member Amani Hooker said of Byard. “He comes in and works every day with high expectations. He has high standards for himself and he lives up to them.”
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It’s comical now to think that Byard — one of the NFL’s top guards — was so overlooked as a rookie, despite being a famous high school player. He earned full state honors for Martin Luther King Jr. High School near Atlanta.
But college coaches questioned his abilities. They questioned his speed. They saw him more as a wide receiver, and since he was only 5-foot-11, that wasn’t a good thing.
He was a two-star, ranked 117th overall prospect at Georgia in 2011, which largely had to do with Byard not attending the recruiting camps where players were discovered. These camps required time and money – two things he didn’t have much of at the time.
Byard was the second oldest of seven children. When he was in ninth grade, Byard’s mother, Artina Stanley, moved from Philadelphia to Atlanta amid a divorce. Kevin helped look after his younger siblings while his mother worked. Matured beyond his years, he would go to school and train, then come home and help cook and clean.
“I think that’s part of him,” Stockstill said.
A special honor
For Byard, MTSU’s honor personally comes at a difficult time. Her mother died earlier this summer.
“Some days are tough,” Byard said at the start of training camp.
Thursday’s MTSU announcement was originally scheduled for June’s mandatory minicamp, but was postponed when Byard returned home.
He said he wanted to dedicate not just this season — but every day — to his memory.
“It may sound weird,” he said, “but I talk to my mom a lot and I can just hear her voice saying something like, ‘Just keep your foot on the gas.’ This is what I will continue to do every day.”
Byard, a father of two, surely made his mother proud. He is one of Middle Tennessee’s most beloved and popular football players. This is no accident, as anyone who has spent time with him knows.
During the scary early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was looking for various sports personalities to give inspirational words.
Guess who left the Titans?
Earlier this summer, Byard was a special guest at the Middle Tennessee High School Sports Awards sponsored by The Tennessianof the USA TODAY network.
After an onstage Q&A with tips for the athletes in attendance, Byard hung out and posed for photos with the winners.
Byard was the Titans’ 2020 nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. In July 2020, he was named spokesperson for United Way of Greater Nashville.
He and his wife, Clarke, founded the Byard Family Legacy Fund to help those in need. Last August, they unveiled a Davidson County Department Child Safety Room for children detained by the state due to abuse or neglect.
“I’m obviously successful now,” Byard said last year, “but at the same time I feel like I gravitate around people who aren’t always in the best place in life.”
In Stockstill’s words, “(Byard) was a very good example for a lot of people.”
This is still the case to this day.
Contact Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.