By Jimmy Hyams
How about a tip of the helmet to Tyler Byrd?
Byrd was a high four-star Tennessee signee who would be a star at receiver or cornerback – take your pick. Fans feuded over whether the Vols needed him more on offense or defense.
Four years, no starts and 19 receptions later, Byrd has obviously not been a prime contributor on offense.
Instead, he has evolved into a nice blocking wideout and a special teams demon, playing on the punt return, punt coverage, kick return and kick coverage units.
And unlike so many others – more than 600 football players entered the NCAA transfer portal since it was established last October – Byrd didn’t complain and seek greener pastures.
Byrd remained at Tennessee, kept quiet, did what he could to help his team and didn’t cause trouble.
That’s why when Byrd blocked a punt that led to a touchdown last Saturday against Chattanooga, his teammates rallied in support.
Byrd didn’t sulk about his playing time. Instead, he took a deep dive into what he could do to help his team.
Why is he so good at special teams?
“I just want to make it as important as I can,’’ said Byrd, who was a U.S. Army All-American from Naples, Fla. “I want to make a difference somehow. My opportunity comes on special teams. I want to make it the best I can.’’
Byrd said his coaches spotted a gap in the Mocs’ punting formation that opened the door for a block.
“I lined up on the left side,’’ Byrd said. “I was waiting for the shield to move and when it moved I just said, `I got this one,’ and I laid out for it and hoped for the best.’’
How gratifying was that?
“Very,’’ Byrd said, “and I’m glad Brandon Johnson got a chance to scoop it up and score. He’s a senior also, so it’s big to see him get into the end zone.’’
Byrd has two touchdowns during his Tennessee career, but he seemed just as happy for a teammate to find the end zone.
Byrd is hoping the Vols take the momentum from the blowout win against Chattanooga to Florida and win in The Swamp for the first time since 2003.
If the Vols do, it make take more special plays by a special player on special teams.