October 19th, 2014

Byrd working to take flight at Wesleyan


Roy Walter

Assistant Editor

Byrd working to take flight at Wesleyan
“My goal is to make at least as big an impact here as I had in high school,” said former DeSales star Dylan Byrd, a freshman at Kentucky Wesleyan / photo and cover photo courtesy of Kentucky Wesleyan College

Since taking his talents to Kentucky Wesleyan College this fall, Dylan Byrd hasn’t yet become the record-breaking running back he was at DeSales High School, but he’s aiming to be one someday.

“My goal is to make at least as big an impact here as I had in high school and to help turn the program around,” Byrd said.

Considering all he accomplished in high school, that would be saying a lot.

After all, Byrd left DeSales last spring as the school’s career rushing leader with a lofty 4,254 yards (he smashed the old mark by 1,271) and all-time leading scorer with 77 touchdowns. His 5,243 combined rushing and receiving yards were also a record. In his senior season alone, he scored 36 touchdowns and ran for 2,026 yards while leading the Colts to a 14-1 record and the Class 2-A state title. On top of all that, he was named first-team All-State by The Associated Press.

Now he’s gone from being The Man on a highly successful team at DeSales to being a reserve running back on a 4-3 squad that didn’t win more than five games in any of the previous 10 seasons.

Byrd admits it’s been a big adjustment.

“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” he said. “You realize that the game isn’t really in your hands the whole time. You don’t start the game and you get a minimal amount of playing time and you have to do what you can with that time … and work hard every rep just to get in the game. Every time I touch the ball I’m wanting to do something good with it.”

The freshman has played in all seven games this season and has 23 carries for 69 yards, an average of 3.0 yards per attempt. Byrd has scored two touchdowns, the most recent coming on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 55-28 win over Lindenwood-Bellville. The other was an 11-yard sprint in a victory over Faith on Oct. 4.

He also has caught one 16-yard pass and is an effective kick returner — he is second on the Panthers with nine returns for 172 yards, a 19.1 average.

Kentucky Wesleyan head coach Brent Holsclaw, a former Trinity High quarterback who helped the Shamrocks win a state title in 1989, believes Byrd could turn out to be a special player for him.

He said that when he was recruiting Byrd, “I felt like he was a Division I player, at least with his skill set. We just jumped all over him. Here’s his biggest asset: He’s a tremendous runner. He sees holes well. I can see he’s been coached well. He understands ball management. He’s got great footwork.”

Holsclaw added that, like all college players at any level, Byrd is having to deal with a learning curve. The coach named pass blocking and run blocking as things his freshman running back needs to work on.

Byrd is listed on Kentucky Wesleyan’s roster at 5 feet 6 and 166 pounds, small by Division I standards. In fact, he’s one of the smallest Panthers. And Holsclaw guesses that is why D-I schools passed over Byrd despite his gaudy high school accomplishments.

But he also believes Byrd is big enough to be an every down, featured back for the Division II Panthers.

“At our level, there’s no doubt,” Holsclaw said. “He’s not small, but he’s not 6-2 like those bigger, tall backs.

“It’s a good fit. He’s playing right now. He’s not the full-time back, but he’s getting time and he’s got a great future here if he keeps working hard.”

Byrd considered playing for Ball State or one of the smaller schools that were recruiting him before he chose Kentucky Wesleyan. Holsclaw might have had an inside track toward landing the All-Stater in that he and offensive coordinator Donte Pimpleton (Fern Creek High) are from Louisville and DeSales head coach Harold Davis was a standout defensive back for Kentucky Wesleyan.

Davis accompanied Byrd to Owensboro on his recruiting visit and told him about the history of KWC football, what a big role he had on the team and what it was like to play for the Panthers.

“Yeah, I think it helped (sign Byrd),” Holsclaw said, “but I know Coach Davis well and he certainly wanted to make sure that Dylan explored all his options and it was Dylan’s decision.”

Byrd liked what he saw when he got to campus and decided that was where he wanted to be.

With an enrollment of 716 students, Wesleyan certainly fits the description of a small college, something Byrd might be comfortable with after coming from DeSales, one of Louisville’s smaller Catholic schools.

But that didn’t affect his decision.

“The size of the school didn’t really matter to me a lot,” Byrd said. “I just wanted to play football at the collegiate level, preferably D-I or D-II.”

Now that he’s there, though, he knows he made the right decision.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s a family environment here. Everybody’s cool with everybody. Everybody knows everybody and I love the camaraderie.”

Holsclaw said Byrd was “very quiet” when he arrived on campus, “but he has opened up. You can see him growing a little bit more every day. I think he’s got a close-knit family, so that’s a good thing. He’s a terrific young man.”

Kentucky Wesleyan is affiliated with the Methodist church and students are required to attend convocations and take a minimal number of religion courses.

But with his Catholic upbringing, Byrd is familiar with all that and isn’t reluctant to let his faith be known.

“DeSales definitely prepared me for college, and the whole Catholic thing most definitely prepared me for college classes in religion and stuff,” he said. “During the summer camp we went to church with the team and when we have home games we go to church before the game. God has always been a factor in my life because I went to Catholic school.”

Holsclaw agreed with that wholeheartedly.

“We get guys from all sorts of different backgrounds, but guys that come from that background I grew up in tend to really thrive here,” KWC’s coach said. “So I wish the same for him and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it works for him.”

Despite his busy schedule and the demands of trying to juggle classes and football, Byrd finds time to keep up with his former team at DeSales.

He stays in close contact with some of his ex-teammates and follows the Colts’ games via Twitter. So he well knows that DeSales took a 7-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in Class 2-A into Friday night’s 17-0 loss to Christian Academy.

Byrd believes the Colts have the firepower to win a second consecutive state championship.

“Honestly, I am 100 percent sure they can,” he said emphatically. “As long as they keep their heads level and keep doing what they’re doing, they won’t have a problem winning it.”



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