Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sleeper of the Day, and a leader of the band

MARCUS BYRD, DE/OT, Hickory St. Stephens

Marcus Byrd had had a forgettable freshman season. He had been a too-skinny kid who attracted little notice on the Hickory St. Stephens junior varsity team. He decided to change all that, though, and over the winter, spring and summer of 2007, he pumped and pushed the iron in the school’s weight room, getting bigger and stronger by the day.

And in August of that year, when the first day of one-on-one drills began in preseason practice, Byrd lined up at defensive end and ripped past every offensive lineman the team had.

Then he wandered over to where the varsity lines were practicing, and asked the coaches for a chance to go one-on-one with the upperclassmen. The coaches, who barely remembered this kid from the previous year, smiled and said, why not?

So Byrd proceeded to go head-to-head with one varsity lineman after another, once again beating every one.

St. Stephens coach Fred Whalen chuckles now at the memory.

“We took his jayvee jersey off right there and gave him a varsity jersey. I’d never seen that happen in my 13, 14 years of coaching football. Nobody applauded or anything—I think the varsity kids were in shock.”

Byrd has been surprising people since, playing offensive tackle and DE for St. Stephens. And he’s not your ordinary two-way player. How about being a standout on the football team and at the same time playing saxophone in the school band?

While he obviously can’t play on game nights, Byrd is with the band in weekend step competitions. And his days are full with off-season conditioning workouts and in-season football practice, along with working on that sax. He is a band section leader. He also plays in the Indians’ jazz band, which plays at fund-raising events.

Because Byrd is 6 feet tall and 225 pounds, the big colleges are paying little attention. He already has an offer from Lenoir-Rhyne, though, and is drawing considerable interest from Appalachian, Benedict, Elon, Liberty and Richmond.

As a junior, he graded out at 89 percent on his blocking, with 31 pancake blocks and no sacks allowed. Defensively, Byrd had seven sacks, 52 tackles and 21 assists. Throw in a 3.78 GPA (out of 4.0) and he appears college-ready.

They always say you can’t teach height, and Byrd’s may be impossible to overcome. But he does have good 4.7-second speed in the 40-yard dash, and he does have that take-no-prisoners attitude on the field, so don’t bet against him. Those St. Stephens offensive line must be glad they didn’t. Stan Olson

Our Sleeper of the Day item targets under-noticed Carolinas football recruiting prospects. As always, if you have a candidate, email me at solson@charlotteobserver.com.

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