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Football Player of the Week: Gainesville's Michael Byrd
Byrd provides Red Elephants with versatile weapon in backfield
Gainesville's Michael Byrd runs up the field during a game against Salem earlier this season at City Park Stadium in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Honor roll

Andrew Smith, North Hall: Racked up 82 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries and threw a score in the Trojans’ 63-7 rout of Banks County.

Zac Little, North Hall: Rushed for a team-best 89 yards on seven carries and finished with two touchdowns.

Zac Cheshire, Chestatee: Rushed for 123 yards on 20 carries in the War Eagles’ 28-21 loss to fourth-ranked Monroe Area.

Johnathan Gilreath, Lumpkin County: Caught five passes for 155 yards and one touchdown in the Indians’ loss to Lanier.

T.J. Skelton, Jefferson: Completed 12 of 14 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for 52 yards and a score in a win against Riverside Military.

Sammy Williams, Jefferson: Finished with 82 yards rushing on 11 carries with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns.

Raleigh Beougher, Riverside Military: Returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, finished with four catches for 66 yards.

Collin Pettell, Riverside Military: Threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Jefferson.

A.J. Vandiver, White County: Rushed for a game-high 63 yards on seven carries and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to lead the Warriors to a win against West Hall.

Evyn Cooper, Buford: Scored on both carries in the Wolves’ win against East Hall. He finished with 129 yards on two carries.

Jackson Strickland, Lakeview: Rushed for 240 yards in a loss to Towns County. The senior rushed for 762 yards across Lakeview’s final four games of the season.

Joseph Mancuso, Union County: Completed 24 of 30 passes for 240 yards with three touchdowns and added two more scores on the ground in the Panthers’ win against Social Circle.

Xavier Harper, Jackson County: Rushed for 57 yards on three carries and had six receptions and finished with two total touchdowns in a loss to Elbert County.

Ben Brissey, Jackson County: Hauled in seven passes for 111 yards.

Jacob Lewis, Jackson County: Completed 21 of 34 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown, while adding 57 yards rushing on 11 carries.

Compiled by Ed Hooper

Bruce Miller likes the versatility that junior back Michael Byrd brings to the table every Friday night. Gainesville’s coach thinks the Red Elephants’ offense is better with a back like Byrd complimenting all-state quarterback Deshaun Watson.

“He is, all year, one of our go-to guys,” Miller said. “I’d like to know how many games this year he’s had 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving. I know that’s been the case in five or six games, if not more. He is an all-purpose back.

“He gives us a huge compliment to go with Deshaun. He just does a lot of things for us.”

The list of things that Byrd is capable of doing is quite long. He can run inside, run outside, break away for long runs, catch passes across the middle, down the field and in the flats. He can also hang in the backfield and provide Watson with a big block that will allow him to sit in the pocket a few more seconds to find an open target down the field.

“I do whatever I have to do for us to get the win,” Byrd said.

Last Friday night against Loganville, Byrd was in typical form for Gainesville (8-1, 7-0 Region 8-AAAAA). He led the Red Elephants with 138 yards rushing and finished with two touchdowns in a 63-0 rout of the Red Devils, a game that aired nationally on ESPNU. For his efforts, Byrd has been named The Times’ Player of the Week.

“I knew we were going to be playing on national TV, so I felt like I should just go ahead and take advantage of it,” Byrd said of last Friday’s game. “And let everyone know what I’m capable of doing.”

Fourth-ranked Gainesville’s offense has been nearly unstoppable the past seven weeks. Since being held to just 14 points in a loss to Buford on Sept. 6, the Red Elephants have averaged 56 points per game heading into Friday night’s Region 8-AAAAA championship game against Flowery Branch (7-2, 7-0) at City Park Stadium.

Byrd has been a major factor in the massive amount of production in those seven contests.

“Ever since that loss (to Buford), it made us work a little bit harder,” Byrd said.
Like all season, Miller said the key in Friday’s game against the Falcons is being able to run the ball with Byrd, taking pressure off Watson and the Red Elephant passing attack.

“I hope (Byrd) has another good night (on Friday),” Miller said. “We would like to run the football coming into the game. If he has a good game, that usually means we have a good game.”

The success and versatility of Byrd is nothing new for Gainesville fans. If anything, they’ve come to expect it every given week. The junior took over starting duties on the varsity in the eighth game of his freshman season in 2011. He’s now started 31 straight games in his high school career.

For a guy like Byrd, who is listed at just 5-foot-5, the ability to last throughout the entirety of a season stems from the amount of hard work put in during the offseason.

“It comes down to getting the job done in the offseason,” Byrd said. “It consists of a lot of work and a lot of resting.”

A major reason for his success on the field might also come from playing in an offense with Watson, the state’s all-time passing leader and one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the nation.

With so many teams keying in on stoping Watson, Byrd and others are often overlooked by opposing teams.

“That is very much the case,” Miller said. “Everybody is worried about trying to stop Deshaun and all of the sudden Michael will dance out of there and come out of there with a lot of yardage, like the other night; they didn’t have an answer for him.”