The DeSales High school football team downed Glasgow 10-2 in Class 2-A quarterfinal action last Friday and will face Caldwell County this Friday with a trip to the state championship on the line.
Leading the way for the Colts (9-4) is slippery running back Dylan Byrd. The junior is averaging 123 rushing yards per game (209 carries for 1,599 yards) and has piled up 30 touchdowns (22 rushing, seven receiving and one kickoff return) in his first season as a starter.
The 5-foot-10, 163 pounder is also tops in receiving with 22 catches for 562 yards.
â€œHeâ€™s as good as anybody in town,â€ said first-year coach Harold Davis, who was a member of DeSalesâ€™ 1981 squad that made the 4-A state final before falling to Henry Clay 20-7. â€œHe can run the ball, has seven touchdowns receiving and over 2,000 yards of total offense. A lot of good running backs canâ€™t do the things that he can do.â€
DeSales also reached the 2-A final in 2009, losing to Fort Campbell 29-9.
With just one game separating him from a long-held dream of reaching the state championship, Byrd sat down to answer questions about his life inside and outside the lines.
CHRIS CAHILL: During the regular season, DeSales was 6-0 when you ran for 100 yards or more and 0-4 when you didnâ€™t. Do you feel added pressure knowing that your performance is so critical to the teamâ€™s success?
DYLAN BYRD: I donâ€™t feel any pressure, really. Iâ€™m going to get a lot of touches and I know what I have to do. I have a good line in front of me and theyâ€™re going to help. Itâ€™s crazy how much our defense and our O-line step up. A lot of people think itâ€™s all the running back, but the line has a lot to do with it.
CAHILL: Coach Davis said you remind him of former DeSales and University of Louisville standout Willie Shelby. What do you see as your MO?
BYRD: I am a speedy running back, but, if I have to, I can get the yards under pressure with people around me. I can still rumble to get the yards.
CAHILL: After seeing only limited action last year, whatâ€™s been the difference this season?
BYRD: I think itâ€™s physical maturity, training in the off-season and the leadership role that I have as the starting running back. Other than the seniors, I feel like itâ€™s my duty to be a leader.
CAHILL: What would reaching the state championship mean to you?
BYRD: Itâ€™ll prove to us that we were as good as we thought we were. At the beginning of the season we knew we were going to be okay, but a lot of people doubted us. Our (offensive) line has helped me and the rest of us do what other people didnâ€™t think we could do and our defense has made stops that are unbelievable.
CAHILL: Why do you wear number 30?
BYRD: My dad (Marcellous) was number 30 in high school. Me and my other two brothers (Nick, 19, and Adam, 18), who also played at DeSales, wore numbers in the thirties because we wanted to be like my Dad. He was a great running back for Dorman High School in South Carolina. He was my inspiration and got me playing football.
CAHILL: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
BYRD: Coach Davis gave us scapulars at the beginning of the year. When he was in high school they got them and they went to State. I say a prayer, kiss (the scapular) and then wear it during every game.
CAHILL: Win or lose on Friday, what are the areas youâ€™ll look to improve in the off-season?
BYRD: Footwork. I want to have a lot better, faster and quicker footwork. I want to be able to break free quicker and explode better. And I want to gain maybe 10 to 15 pounds and hit the weights hard.
CAHILL: What kind of mark would you like to leave at DeSales?
BYRD: I want people to remember me as one of the greatest DeSales running backs. I want to hold a rushing touchdowns record. I want to hold a (career rushing) yards record and I just want to be known for the great things that I did in football for DeSales High School.
Byrd and the Colts will host Caldwell County (10-3) this Friday at Fairdale. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Newport Central Catholic (9-4) will visit Somerset (11-2) in the other semifinal.
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.