Senior defensive back Nicholas Pratt is dealing with the disappointment of a 23-22 loss to Rummel in the Division I state championship game Thursday in New Orleans.
One method of therapy is more football, and Pratt and defensive lineman Chandler Nance have that opportunity as they participate in the East-West All-Star Game on Saturday in Independence Stadium.
Pratt said he’s received a lot of support from family, friends and fellow Byrd students since the team advanced to the program’s first state title appearance since 1962, and the All-Star game helps in moving past the defeat.
“It gets my mind off of it a little bit,” Pratt said as his West team was preparing for its first practice in Independence Stadium. “Come out here and try to get a ring.
“People come up to me and support me everyday, saying I did pretty good and the team did good. Wish we would have won, but I should have a lot of support Saturday, too.”
Byrd finished its season 11-2 with losses to Rummel in the championship and Parkway in the regular season.
“I’m so proud of the young men, what they accomplished and how hard they played all year long,” said Byrd head coach Mike Suggs. “It’s a shame it had to end that way … but I guess it was not meant to be.
“It’s disappointing … but that’s life and that’s football. Sometimes you learn more from that than you do success. But when you reflect on it, it’s very rewarding for the young men and the school and the fans. To experience it and be a part of it, these will be memories they cherish for the rest of their lives.”
The Yellow Jackets advanced to the semis in 2011 and the championship in 2013, totaling 31 wins over the last three seasons, the most in a three-year span in program history. Byrd went 12-1 in 2011, 8-3 in 2012 and 11-2 in 2013. Two other stretches in school history had fewer losses per year, including 1924-31 (seven total losses) and 1933-37 (four total losses). Byrd won six of its seven total championships during those stretches.
Suggs, who started as an assistant under Alan Carter, is in his 24th season overall at Byrd and 16th as a head coach.
“It meant a lot knowing where we started from in 1990 with Alan Carter and where we are now,” Suggs said. “It’s a good feeling as a coach and a person. The struggles we had and to be where we are now — it’s a good overall feeling.
The current class of 29 seniors like Pratt and Nance played a large role, and Suggs hopes younger players can be motivated by the run much like the 2013 seniors with the 2011 semifinals finish.
“They’ve seen the end of the rainbow,” Suggs said. “Hopefully they will want to experience that again and do the right things to get back there.”
A powerful rushing attack led to an average of 39 points, including six games of at least 48 points.
Senior fullback Louis Mills’ 991 rushing yards led eight backs with at least 150 yards, joining Dominic Haggerty (881) at the top of Jackets’ list. Receiver Jordan Powell (seven touchdowns) will also be missed in the passing and return games.
Juniors Haggerty and quarterback Tyler Howard will be the core of an experienced backfield in 2014.
“We lose Mills, but the rest of the backfield will be experienced,” Suggs said. “We lose a lot on defense and on the offensive line, so it’s definitely going to be a new look next year.
“But there were a lot of ball games where young guys played, and they saw action in big games. Hopefully that will motivate them and they do things to keep this team moving forward.”
Nance led a defense that allowed 17 points per game but held seven opponents to 13 points or less.
Other senior standouts on the defensive unit include defensive backs Kirkland McCulloch, Hayden Ellison and Kendry Sneed.
Juniors linebacker Krishun Cash and defensive lineman McDonald will be part of the returning core next season.