It was originally thought that NC State cornerback Jarvis Byrd would redshirt during his first year on campus. However, injuries wrecked havoc on the secondary early in Byrd's rookie season and the youngster was forced into the lineup in late October for the eighth game of the campaign, against Florida State. Just two games later, Byrd had worked his way into the starting lineup, and started the final three games of the season.
After tearing his ACL in the 2009 season finale against North Carolina, Byrd is doing everything he can to earn his starting position back. That includes extra sprints after practice alongside close friend Darryl Cato-Bishop and the duo also gets extra workouts in at NC State's student gym three days a week, swimming in the pool and running on the indoor track.
"The knee is holding up better now than last [fall], it's gotten stronger," Byrd said. "I'm getting faster on it and I'm also exercising my knee more, lifting more weights. It feels pretty good.
"Every day after practice, I always get extra sprints in. Really I just started doing them this year after I came back. I know that guys were getting better last year when I was out after my surgery so that made me fall behind. Now, I'm trying to gain my momentum back and just get back to where I was at my freshman year. It's like my dad used to say, 'if you don't work, you don't eat. You've got to outwork the next man because there's always somebody coming to take your spot.'"
Byrd has also worked on becoming a student of the game, which the rising-redshirt sophomore admits was not his strong point when he last saw the game field for the Pack. Stepping back from the game has increased his ability to diagnose plays before they happen and recognize formations. Byrd also contends that the time away from the field has increased his love for playing the game that was briefly taken from him, pushing him even harder to succeed.
"I'm a smarter player now, I watch film more," Byrd said. "During my freshman year, I was out there playing on pure talent; I didn't know too much about watching film, I just got thrown into the fire. Now, I've had the opportunity to sit back and see the game, get more of a feel for it. That has helped me become a better player."
The Pahokee, Fla. native actually returned to the practice field last fall, but knew that his knee was not ready to go full-tilt. He conversed with longtime friend and former Wolfpack safety Javon Walker, who had his promising college career ended with a knee injury, and came away with valuable advice.
"I learned from him to not rush back so I sat the whole year out, it didn't feel like it was ready," Byrd said. "At first, I was just doing drills and watching. As I got further in my rehab, the coaches asked me if I was ready to get back on the field. I said, 'yeah,' and from that point on, I was on the scout team, going against some great receivers - Jarvis Williams, Owen Spencer and Darrell Davis.
"That helped me get some confidence in myself, at first I was doing bad and I thought I'd never be the same. As time went on, it got better and I started catching on."
While he was careful not to return too fast, Byrd said he felt he got onto the field as soon as he could and seeing limited action as soon as he was able to was something that helped him gain confidence back so quickly.
"They just put me [on the field] early [in my rehab] to get my mindset right because the hardest part of having an ACL year is the mental process," he said. "When you think you can't do something, you got to always tell yourself that you can, you've got to always believe in yourself."
The 5-11, 180-pounder also logged quite a bit of time in the weight room during his recovery and admits he is much stronger now. Byrd, who said he was benching 275 pounds when he arrived on campus, now boasts a maximum of 335. He added that the additional strength could have helped prevent what got him injured in the first place.
"[The injury happened] in the third quarter on a reverse play," he remembered. "I was peeking in the backfield and [was lined up] against Greg Little. Basically, he drove me back and tried to throw him off me. With how I had my feet planted on the field, I had twisted my knee and that caused it to pop. It was the worst pain in my life.
"I remember it pretty clearly, but I promised myself to never let it happen again. Plus, I was only like 175 [pounds] then. After doing that, I told myself that I was going to get bigger, stronger and faster. Now I'm at 191."
Although Byrd was cautious about doing too much on his knee when he first returned to the field last fall, he is doing everything he can now to work his way back into the starting 11. The cornerback is confident that the knee will be back to normal, or stronger, by the time summer camp opens in August and he does not plan to hold anything back on the field.
"My standards are very high, I expect to do a lot for the team if I'm able to regain my starting position again," he said. "I feel like I can contribute to the team in many ways and, hopefully, we'll have a better year than last year."
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