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Player of the week: Michael Byrd

POSTED: October 31, 2011 9:45 p.m.


Michael Byrd couldn’t believe his ears.

The freshman running back for Gainesville High, had spent the majority of the season taking carries for the junior varsity team. But with just two games left to play in the regular season, Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller named Byrd the starter for their Oct. 28 game against West Hall.

“I just looked at him and wondered if he was for real,” Byrd said of his reaction to Miller’s decision. “When he told me I was going to be able to start, it just made me feel really good.”

Byrd didn’t disappoint.

In the game, he rushed 18 times for 211 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half of a 41-0 win over the Spartans. For his efforts, Byrd was named The Times Football Player of the Week.

On a night when the weather made it difficult to run their typically dynamic spread offense, the Red Elephants (8-1, 5-0 8-AAA South) relied on their young back to carry the load.

Miller said he had no problem trusting Byrd in that position.

“We have a lot of confidence in him,” the coach said. “And he’s earned that confidence.

“It’s just one of those things where you don’t want to put too much expectation on a freshman because you don’t want him to feel that pressure, but on the other hand, you want to know he can handle it.”

While the team had plenty of confidence in him to perform, Byrd said he was not without his nerves leading up to the game. And for good reason, as he had only rushed 14 times for 99 yards throughout the team’s first eight games.

But it didn’t take him long to feel comfortable. He ran for touchdown runs of 1 and 61 yards in the first quarter alone.

“I was a little nervous before the game,” Byrd said. “After my first carry, though, I was good.”

So was the team.

He helped lead the Red Elephants’ rushing offense to 378 yards, its highest output of the season.

Byrd said even he was a little taken aback by his strong performance.

“I did surprise myself a little bit,” he said. “Without the offensive line, though, doing the job that they did, I wouldn’t have been able to do that good.”

While Miller said that he didn’t expect Byrd to have the type of game that he did, there were a number of things throughout the season that made him think the running back may be capable of having a breakout game.

“One of the things we noticed came early in summer camp,” Miller said. “He held his own in some scrimmages. That was exciting. We try not to throw too much at a ninth grader early on, and we’ve been lucky to not have to, but when the JV season came to a close, we figured it’d be a good chance to get him some work.”

Making his performance even more impressive is the fact that Byrd stands at just 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds, still a lot smaller than the competition he is up against.

But Miller said that isn’t an issue for Byrd.

“I don’t think he thinks about it, to tell you the truth,” Miller said. “It’s just one of those things running backs don’t really think about. Everybody on the field is bigger than you anyway, you’ve just got to beat them with your quickness and finesse.”

With such a strong performance, Miller said Byrd had earned another start on Friday when the Red Elephants host Stephens County (8-1, 5-0 8-AAA North) in the region championship at City Park.

To see similar success, Byrd said, he has to continue to do what helped him on Friday.

“I’ve just got to do what I can do,” he said. “Just got to go out there and follow my blockers.”



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