Michael Byrd’s joy can be found in watching his two sons playing football for Gainesville High on Fridays in the fall. Part of the excitement is watching his sons, Michael and Chris, following in his footsteps as standouts for the Red Elephants. The other part is just the paternal joy of watching the next generation do what they love.
“I just love getting to see Junior (Michael) and Chris out on the field together,” said their father, who was a talented running back for Gainesville in the early 1980s. “That’s my enjoyment right there.”
The younger Michael is just like his father, lining up at running back. He’s been one of the most explosive parts of Gainesville’s offense this year as it prepares to face Harris County in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs at 7:30 tonight in Hamilton.
As a senior, Michael has rushed for 745 yards despite missing time due to injury early in the season. He’s had four straight games over 100 yards on the ground, including a career-best 217 yards against Creekview in a first-round win last Friday.
Chris, a 185-pound junior, primarily concentrates on playing linebacker, and is now back fully healthy after a broken ankle early midway through the regular season against Heritage. Michael missed time early in the season with a Week 1 concussion against Grayson then fractured his foot the following week against Winder-Barrow.
The regular-season finale against Flowery Branch marked the first time all season that both were on the field in the same game. In the back-and-forth battle against the Grizzlies to open the postseason, the Byrd brothers were able to share a special moment that magnified their bond as brothers and ability to both run the football behind the Red Elephants’ dependable offensive front.
Trailing 17-14 in the second quarter, Michael got Gainesville’s drive started fast with gains of 46 and 32 yards, highlighting his ability to identify the open hole and outrun the defense with a burst of speed. After the second big play, Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said Michael was pushed into the fence at the end of the play, and needed a break to catch his breath. That opened the door for Chris to get in the running game. Lining up at the 4, the younger of the Byrd brothers hammered it into the end zone for his first score since his ankle injury.
Those three plays highlighted the contrast in styles running the ball. Michael, a senior, is most known for his speed, while his younger brother is more likely to seek out contact from the defense.
“They’re both hard-working kids,” said Miller. “I like having the tandem of the two on the field.”
Michael said he’s played football with his younger brother since they were coming up in 5- and 6-year old flag football league. While Michael had a breakout junior season in 2013 with 1,003 rushing yards, Chris was still primarily playing in a backup role.
Now they’re enjoying one final playoff run together and have hopes of a state title. They both have dreams of playing college football together but are unsure what the future holds since Chris, who has 49 tackles on defense, has another full season of high school football remaining.
Both Byrd brothers want their dad to be proud. The older Michael was an accomplished running back in high school, once setting a Red Elephants school record with 262 yards in a game against Stephens County en route to the state championship game.
“We both want to live up to our father’s expectations and make him proud every game we go out there,” said Michael.
Away from the field, they’re typical teenagers who like to hang out with friends and play basketball recreationally.
Gainesville’s coach said they also have very similar personalities. Miller said the Byrd brothers are both reserved at first around people they don’t know, but once they get comfortable in new surroundings, it’s easy for them to let down their guard.
“They’re both pretty quiet,” said Miller. “But once you get to know them, they’re funny as (they can be).”
Now healthy and eager to tote the football, Michael and Chris have one remaining goal they’d like to accomplish together in a game: to both go over 100 yards in the same night. The Byrd brothers know that would certainly put a big smile on old dad’s face.