Dylan Byrd knows how to open a football season — with a bang.
On Aug. 24, the junior running back for DeSales took the opening kickoff against Elizabethtown and ran 97 yards to score and ignite the Colts’ 63-14 victory at E’town.
Byrd still remembers the run.
“It was supposed to be a return down the sidelines, but I saw I couldn’t get past a couple of defenders,” he said. “So I cut back to the middle of the field. Everybody was blocking. James Jarvis (tight end) pushed me off a tackle and I scored.”
Byrd, who will lead the 9-4 Colts against Caldwell County (10-3) in a Class 2-A semifinal playoff game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Fairdale, almost did the same thing in DeSales’ 2011 opener against Central Hardin.
“I ran the opening kickoff back to the three-yard line,” he said. “Getting tackled at the three-yard line is not good at all. I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen this year.”
Byrd, at 5 feet 9, 160 pounds, hasn’t stopped running– and scoring — since his grand entrance into this season. He scored four TDs against E’town, Shawnee and Holy Cross, and he went through both the Christian Academy and Southern defenses for three scores.
All told, Byrd has racked up 30 TDs. He has carried the ball 209 times for 1,599 yards and 22 TDs, and caught 22 passes for 582 yards and 7 scores. The Wing-T offense, which DeSales switched to when Harold Davis moved up to head coach this year after being the defensive coordinator, has given Byrd more touches.
“Dylan’s special,” said Davis, a defensive back on the DeSales team that lost to Lexington Henry Clay 20-7 in the 1981 state 4-A final. “You don’t find backs like him too often. One of the things that’s special about him is not too many backs can catch the ball like he can. Any time he gets the ball he has a chance to score.”
Byrd expected to be a starter this season, but when the Colts’ other first-team running back, Kevin Crossan, suffered a broken fibula against E’town, Byrd became the main offensive weapon.
In DeSales’ second game, against Central, the defending state 3-A champions, Byrd scored on a 66-yard pass reception down the middle on the first play of the game. Byrd gained 87 yards rushing on 21 carries and caught three passes for 93 yards, but the Colts eventually lost 27-14.
“I went up the seam and the defense Central was in couldn’t adjust to that,” Byrd said about that TD reception. “I knew I’d have to be a leader this year, but I didn’t know I’d have this kind of season. My line has helped me a lot.”
Byrd doesn’t run track in the spring “because it interferes with weightlifting,” he said.
Davis points out that Byrd is strong for his size.
“He can dead-lift 500 pounds,” the coach said. “He has good speed. When he gets to the second level of the defense and he has space to run, he can put it into another gear.”
Byrd’s speed has enabled him to score on runs of 70 yards twice, 60 yards once and 43 yards.
Davis recalls how Byrd keyed a 21-16 comeback win over CAL two weeks ago.
“We were down 16-0 in the third quarter,” Davis said. “Dylan scored two times as a receiver and on a 43-yard run. With 10 minutes left in the game we were ahead. The whole thing was impressive. I respect CAL. They had one of the best defenses we’ve faced.”
DeSales lost to Fort Campbell 29-9 in the 2009 state 2-A final, so the win over CAL kept alive the Colts’ hopes for winning their first state football championship.
“I wasn’t too pleased with how I played in the first half of that (CAL) playoff game,” Byrd said. “I had to do something because we had to win that game. We didn’t pass the ball much in the first half, but Nathan Roush throws the ball on point most of the time and he’s an excellent running quarterback.”
Roush, a junior, has completed 72 of 133 passes for 1,247 yards and 15 TDs, with 7 interceptions. He’s also DeSales’ second-leading rusher with 576 yards and 6 TDs on 96 rushes.
Caldwell County has some good offensive weapons, too. Elijah Sindelar has passed for 2,510 yards and 29 TDs, while hitting on 162 of 270 passes. Jaylen Boyd has rushed for 1,660 yards and 25 TDs on 195 carries. Sindelar’s favorite receiver is Martez Sivils, who has caught 77 passes for 1,163 yards and 14 scores.
“They’re good and I’m not underestimating them at all,” Byrd said. Asked what winning DeSales’ first state football title would mean, Byrd said: “It would turn a lot of people’s heads. Being a small school, people doubt us, but it would show we can do anything other teams can do.”