NORTH AUGUSTA — Some of the fans who came to the North Augusta football team’s spring game may have been surprised.
Rashad Byrd, a potential candidate to be the next quality Yellow Jacket running back, was nowhere to be found on offense. Instead, the rising junior was suited up for the defense.
That transition only adds to his status as No. 7 in The Standard 10, and first-year head coach Brian Thomas said Byrd playing linebacker wasn’t just an experiment.
“He’s going to play more defense, probably, than offense,” Thomas said.
Byrd, who said he has played linebacker since “little kid days,” isn’t worried about moving away from serving primarily as running back. Instead, he’s focusing on helping the Yellow Jackets continue the string of success they’ve had.
“It’s whatever helps the team the most,” he said. “It’s not about yourself all the time.”
That focus extends to his goals for the year. More than tackle totals or individual accomplishments, Byrd wants to do something North Augusta hasn’t done since 1989 – win a state championship.
“One of my main goals is to win a championship,” he said. “It’s something I haven’t done.”
During the spring game, Byrd showed why the coaching staff wanted him on defense. On multiple occasions, he led a charge into the offensive backfield to stuff the first-team running game. He also ran down receivers along the perimeter.
Thomas said that variety will continue, as the North Augusta coaches seek to use Byrd in every aspect of the defense, from pass coverage to pass rushing to run stopping.
“We’re going to use his athleticism to do a lot of different things,” Thomas said. “We’re going to put him in position to make plays.”
His capability to do that hasn’t escaped the notice of opposing coaches.
South Aiken head coach Jeremy West has seen Byrd in action both ways. His ability to cover the field makes him a priority when planning for the North Augusta defense.
“You’ve got to account for somebody like that,” West said. “You’ve got to account for his speed out there and his athleticism getting to the ball.”
For Byrd’s part, he said the mental aspect of playing linebacker was most attractive to him. Because of the multiple responsibilities, he said the position required a high level of preparation and allowed for a more complete view of the situation at hand.
“Well, you get to see more of the plays,” Byrd said. “You’ve got to study a lot.”
Beyond the playbook, Byrd has an example to follow that’s more than adequate. His brother, CJ Byrd, was a multi-sport star for the Yellow Jackets and played both ways on the football team before going on to the University of Georgia.
A highly-recruited safety, the elder Byrd has already motivated his younger brother.
“He tells me, I don’t have the defensive mentality. But it looks like I’m going to prove him wrong this year,” he said.
And Rashad isn’t content to simply have the right mindset. He wants to exceed what his brother accomplished.
“I feel like I’ve got to out-do him because CJ was a big man at North Augusta,” he said.
North Augusta defensive coordinator Derrick Quinn, who noted Byrd’s 6-foot-2 frame and “ball awareness” as assets, had high praise for his linebacker. While he noted that he still needed to add to his 200-pound weight and had room to improve, the junior’s target of out-performing his brother isn’t out of reach.
“He’s got all the ability to be one of the best defensive players I’ve ever coached,” Quinn said.
To stay in shape, Byrd has played baseball, both for the school and on his summer team. Byrd and Thomas agreed that playing multiple sports was a good idea.
“To me, I encourage it. I think you limit yourself if you play one sport,” Thomas said. “Developing skills is a big part of it.”
The skills Byrd has acquired, both from football and baseball, have made him an asset to North Augusta, regardless of where he plays. Thomas said that the coaching staff “can do a lot of things with a kid like that.” He added that Byrd’s attitude off the field is also a positive for the team.
“He brings a lot of what you want in an athlete,” he said. “He’s a pleasure to be around, no doubt about that.”
If Byrd and Thomas have their way, opposing ball carriers won’t share that sentiment.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
This story is the fourth part in a series highlighting The Standard 10, the top 10 Players to Watch in the Aiken area for the rapidly approaching high school football season.
• July 21 — No. 10 DeAngilo Drayton, SB
• July 22 — No. 9 Dalton Swires, FC
• July 23 — No. 8 Tyree Stidem, ST
• Today — No. 7 Rashad Byrd, NA
• Friday — No. 6
• Saturday — No. 5
• Sunday — No. 4
• Monday — No. 3
• Tuesday — No. 2
• Wednesday — No. 1
The order was determined by Aiken Standard sports editor Noah Feit, staff writers Jeremy Timmerman and Eric Russell, North Augusta Star news editor Scott Rodgers and staff writer T.J. Lundeen, as well as ASTV broadcasters Ed Girardeau and Ken Brace.