When Tyler Byrd was asked to speak in front of a group of young Pop Warner athletes on Sunday, the Naples senior didn’t think twice about it.
He thought it’s what any good leader would do in that situation.
Then he told the group his message, which was even more reflective of the person and player he’s become since suiting up for the Naples football team as a freshman in 2012.
“I just told them to be thankful for the coaches and their parents, because without them nothing is possible,” he said.
Byrd, an all-state candidate at cornerback and wide receiver in Class 6A, has a knack for doing the right thing, saying the right thing and playing the right way.
“I just get by working hard every day. I want to show everyone I’m willing to put as much work in as anyone else,” he said. “I don’t take a rep off.”
That’s why Naples (11-1), headed to the FHSAA Class 6A semifinals on Friday at Traz Powell Stadium in Hialeah for the first time since 2012, against powerhouse Miami Central, is in the position it is right now. It has players like Byrd who have put the team ahead of their own personal benefit.
Yes, he’s a University of Miami commit and a four-star prospect by nearly every recruiting website out there today. He also became the third Naples football player in school history to be named to the US Army All-American Bowl in November.
But this past Sunday in front of the Naples Gators, he was just someone who could help inspire younger athletes.
“I’m thankful to be in that position,” he said.
As a football player, Byrd has other jobs, too. On the field, he’s one of the best defensive backs in Southwest Florida.
He’s made his mark on the defensive side of the ball, helping Naples accumulate five shutouts and a downright anemic 9.4 points against average.
Whether he makes a big play or not is often besides the point. It’s largely a result of what the other team isn’t doing, which Byrd often picks apart.
That’s why he remains behind the scenes, studying the tendencies of receivers.
“After the game, you’re constantly rewinding it and looking at it to see what you did,” he said.
But then again, over the last three weeks Byrd has also found a role on offense.
He’s caught 15 passes and five touchdowns over the last three weeks, part of a season in which he’s caught 32 passes for 590 yards and eight touchdowns. When the game gets bigger, so does Byrd.
“It’s just trying to do whatever I can to make sure my team wins,” he said. “No matter what it is, it’s doing what is required of me to do to help the team win.”
Statistically, he’s having the best year of his career, both offensively and defensively, with 38 tackles, three interceptions, five passes defended and three tackles for a loss.
Then again, there’s a reason for his drive as well.
What you likely don’t know are the people who stand behind Byrd and offer inspiration.
“My mom and my dad, they are tremendous people and they are who I play for,” he said of his mother, Shirley, and father, Charlie. “They give me everything and I hope to one day return the favor.”
Byrd is the third in his family to play football at Naples, following in the footsteps of his father and brother, who played a decade ago.
There’s also his late sister, Shaniqua Williams, whom he’s memorialized on his right and left forearms with tattoos — a name for each arm. He was 12 when she was murdered during a home invasion, and the life she never got to live carries with him in everything that he does.
“That was the most difficult time in my life,” he said.
Throughout his career, Byrd has played for those around him. It’s what’s made him a good leader.
“When things get difficult, you have to remember what you do it for and that what you’re doing has a purpose,” he said.
He’s always carried that idea, playing for a larger cause. It’s helped him put his career into perspective and given him a deeper desire to succeed with the Golden Eagles.
And now, just one game away from a state championship appearance, it can help Naples, too.
He’s playing for a program that hasn’t won a state championship since 2007.
Simply reaching this position isn’t what he or his teammates want to ultimately accomplish.
“Everyone has the same goals and same drive,” he said. “That’s what makes us dominant every year. Everyone believes in the same goal and being together.”
So how does he get there?
To Byrd, it starts with leadership. He continues to do the things that exemplify that idea, getting water for teammates at practice, staying late to watch film, or jumping in line to file away one more repetition on offense or defense.
“If you work really hard at what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s possible to accomplish the things you want to,” he said.