March 24, 2004

Gators Offer Big Byrd

Former University of South Carolina defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is returning to his old stomping grounds to recruit one of the nation's top prospects.

Strong, who worked at USC from 1999-2002 before taking the same position at the University of Florida, offered a football scholarship to North Augusta's C.J. Byrd on Tuesday.

Strong has marked Byrd as a primary target in Florida's recruiting efforts for next year. He talked at length with North Augusta coach Joe Long about Byrd.

"(Strong) told us that C.J. was -- hands down -- the top college prospect in South Carolina ... and one of the best in the nation," Long said.

"We've dealt with (Strong) in the past and he has a sterling reputation for being a straight-up guy and telling you exactly what he thinks, whether you like it or not.

"Strong said he envisioned (Byrd) being a weapon for Chris Leak, a tall receiver who can stretch the field with his speed. He said they need C.J. and that Florida will recruit him harder than any other school.

"In fact, today we set out spring practice schedule, with the 10-day period beginning on May 10th. Coach Strong said he will be up here before that day ,.. because he wants Florida to be the first school that C.J. sees during the spring evaluation period. They mean business."

It was the 15th scholarship offer for the player who is affectionately called "Big Byrd" because of his good-natured attitude and tall but muscular build. Byrd seemed excited after calling Strong and talking to him over the phone.

Strong coached at South Carolina during the 1999 season when Steve Mixon was a senior fullback for the Gamecocks. Mixon is now the receivers coach at North Augusta, his alma mater.

"Coach Mixon talks about (Strong) as much he does about (Holtz)," Byrd said. "(Strong) seems to be the kind of coach that pushes you to the absolute limit to get the very best out of you."

Former South Carolina assistants have done well recruiting in the Palmetto State; ex-Gamecocks recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips signed T.L. Hanna RB Rafeal Little for Kentucky last year, to the surprise of many. Little was considered one of the South's top RBs. Phillips also actively recruited North Augusta linebacker Brandon Thomas, who signed with Ole Miss.

Back to Big Byd: Some recruiting analysts have speculated -- at this point -- that Big Byrd has more scholarship offers than any other player in the nation. If not, they say, he is surely within the top five.

"Every time I get an offer, I am surprised ... it doesn't matter which school it is," Byrd said. "I feel very fortunate and blessed to be in this position and I certainly don't take anything for granted. A lot of people in North Augusta worked with me over the years to make this happen. They deserve all the credit."

The news out with the Gators completed a whirlwind day for Big Byrd, who was offered by Penn State only hours earlier. Penn State legend Joe Paterno said he is coming to North Augusta in May to scout Big Byrd in person -- a scenario in which North Augusta's Long said he was nervous about but would be "one of the highlights of his coaching career."

Big Byrd has offers from Florida, Penn State, LSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Maryland, Virginia, Auburn, Illinois and South Carolina, among others. He will make unofficial visits to Tennessee and Georgia over the next two weekends.

"Whenever someone at school brings up recruiting, C.J. is very polite but he also quickly changes the subject," Long said. "He does not to draw attention to himself. He wants to be treated just like everyone else. He's a special kid, and it comes from the way he was raised by his parents."




 

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