Jarvis Byrd: A Wolfpack Comeback – on and off the field

Jarvis Byrd overcame major injuries to help in N.C. State in come-from-behind win

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at North Carolina State

North Carolina State Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett (12) runs for yardage during the second quarter of a 24-23 season-opening victory over the Georgia Southern Eagles at Carter Finley Stadium. (Rob Kinnan-USA Today)

(C+P) — ‘Kevin Ellison pass incomplete to BJ Johnson, broken up by Jarvis Byrd.’ As far as play-by-play lines go this one seems fairly innocuous. Yet for the NC State Wolfpack, Byrd’s breakup was much more than that, in fact it was much more than a game saving hit – it was the fruition of years of determination and perseverance finally able to be seen.

On the surface NC State’s 24-23 victory over Georgia Southern was nothing special, it was a win – and a narrow one at that – versus a team the Wolfpack were initially picked to beat by at least three touchdowns. However, as with most games, the biggest takeaway could not be found on the stat sheet, well not entirely so.

Down 17-3 to Georgia Southern at halftime, NC State came back to win in the final minutes of the game to secure its first victory of the season.

“Did you guys really do all this work this summer for this?” head coach Dave Doeren explained to reporters following the game what he told his players at halftime. “They responded, that’s the leadership on this team. You don’t get that [response] without good leadership.”

One of the undisputed leaders, and furthermore an inspiration, for this team is Byrd, a redshirt senior. Granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, Byrd returned in 2014 from his third ACL injury.

“I thought about giving up football,” Byrd said in reference to tearing his ACL for a third time last season versus Wake Forest. “But the passion and love of the game is still there, I didn’t want to live with regret.”

North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Jarvis Byrd (14) makes the tackle in a game last season with Wake Forest. He broke up a pass in the 2014 season opener to secure the victory for the Wolfpack. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)
North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Jarvis Byrd (14) makes the tackle in a game last season with Wake Forest. He broke up a pass in the 2014 season opener to secure the victory for the Wolfpack. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

It is this passion and determination that led Coach Doeren to ask Byrd to wear the No. 1 jersey this season for the Wolfpack.

“He didn’t have to come back,” Doeren explained. “This guy loves the team, this guy is unselfish, this guy is a leader.”

Byrd was given the No. 1 jersey because it signified where he sits in all of their hearts, and what his perseverance means to each of his teammates. Despite the lack of playing time or on-field experience due to injury, Byrd is the epitome of what Doeren wants his team to be – he is determined, hard-nosed, and never gives up.

“He’s an inspiration,” expressed quarterback Jacoby Brissett. “When you’ve got a player on your team who’s been through what he’s been through, and still has a smile on his face, that’s a great person.”

All of which made what transpired in the final minutes of the game all the more special for the Wolfpack. After Brissett led the team on a 75-yard drive to take their first lead of the game with 1:37 to go in the fourth quarter, Georgia Southern took over looking to make a comeback of their own.

On fourth down, Eagles receiver BJ Johnson looked to have made a spectacular grab over the middle of the field, when out of nowhere Byrd jarred the ball loose with what may have been a game-winning tackle. Without the hit, Georgia Southern would have had a first down near midfield and a minute remaining only needing a field goal to win the game.

It was a moment that certainly did not go unnoticed by coach Doeren, or anyone wearing a NC State uniform Saturday.

“For my man Byrd over here to knock the ball out on fourth down, it was great karma for a warrior,” said coach Doeren before pausing. “I’m very proud of him.”

The significance of this moment was not lost on Byrd himself either.

It was like a dream come true. I can’t even explain it,” said Byrd. “It was so unreal to make that play, I got tears in my eyes to tell you the truth.”

So yes, ‘Kevin Ellison pass incomplete to BJ Johnson, broken up by Jarvis Byrd’, is much more than a line in the box score. It’s a testament to what passion and hard work can lead to.

Next up for NC State is a home match up with Old Dominion at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Monarchs are led by the active leader nationally in passing, Taylor Heinicke, who has 11,764 career passing yards. With numbers like that, Byrd and his fellow defensive teammates will have to come to play if they hope to avoid another early season scare. Granted for a player with a history like Byrd’s, coming to play is a welcomed gift.

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