Fayetteville junior defensive tackle Akial Byers did not expect to be playing a football game next Friday night, but circumstances dictate.
A mid-season loss to 7A-West Conference champ Springdale Har-Ber combined with Friday night's 37-26 home loss to Bentonville mean the Purple Bulldogs won't have a first-round bye.
Instead Fayetteville (8-2) will host West Memphis in the opening round of the playoffs after a game in which Bentonville scored two touchdowns in 10 seconds to take the lead for good.
“When you lose, you just have to come back together and go even harder the next game,” Byers said. “I'm sure that is what we will do.”
Byers (6-4, 260) already has an offer from Mississippi State as well as interest from Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas, Texas A&M, Stanford and Florida State.
It is quite the transformation for a young man who was a reserve as a sophomore and admittedly wasn't very mature or responsible.
“There were times I didn't make it to practice and obviously wasn't as committed as I should have been,” Byers said. “But in the off-season, I went to work and got committed and it has worked out for me.”
Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton related a story about Byers getting his offer from Mississippi State assistant coach Desha Townsend in the spring of his ninth grade year.
“I get down there and Coach Townsend said 'Coach we love him. We want the kid', Patton told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier this month. "And I asked ‘Who are you talking about?’ and he said ‘C.J. O’Grady’. I said ‘C.J. isn’t here this morning’ and he goes ‘Who is that kid’ and I said ‘That’s Akial Byers, he’s a freshman. He’ll be a sophomore next year.'”
That is the first of what is likely to be many offers per Patton.
“Right now, he’s getting letters from every program in America every day,” Patton said. “I’m pretty much his personal secretary. He can be a big-time player if he keeps on the path he’s on now and keeps developing.”
Byers is trying to get better every day to make up for what he considers a lost sophomore season.
“I think I let that get away from me and probably cost myself in terms of development and recruiting,” Byers said. “But I am working twice as hard now to make up for that.
“I feel like I am good against the run and getting after the quarterback, but I am working to get better at both.”
Byers has been to the last few Arkansas home games and likes what he sees from a group that includes nine former Fayetteville High players.
They include quarterbacks Brandon Allen and Austin Allen, linebackers Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw, redshirting tight end C.J. O'Grady.
The other Bulldogs turned Hogs are deep snapper Drew Gorton, fullback Damani Carter, defensive back Scotty Thurman, Jr., and offensive lineman Cooper Sone.
“They are really starting to come together and I really like how all the Fayetteville players are getting it done,” Byers said. “I think the program is on the verge of something big.”
Byers watched Arkansas' 53-52 overtime win over Ole Miss on television on Saturday.
That win included a 4th-and-25 play in overtime that started with pass from quarterback Brandon Allen to Hunter Henry.
Henry lateraled it back toward offensive lineman Dan Skipper, who tipped it to Alex Collins, who caught in on a bounce and ran for the first down.
The play ended with Dominique Reed covering a Collins fumble, a review by the officials and a first down for Arkansas.
“The pitch back by Henry was crazy,” Byers said. “Great game for the Razorbacks. Beating Ole Miss two years in a row is a great accomplishment made by the Razorbacks.”
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Here were some of the other Razorback commits and recruiting targets performances this weekend:
• McTelvin Agim, DE, 6-3, 270, Hope: Agim had 3 sacks among his 6 tackles, 2 catches for 35 yards and one kick return for 35 yards as Hope downed Magnolia 62-21.
• T.J. Hammonds, ATH, 5-11, 200, Pulaski Robinson: Hammonds had 185 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just five carries and one catch for 65 yards and another score as his squad routed Ozark 51-16.
• Cole Kelly, QB, 6-7, 250, Lafayette, La., Teurlings Catholic: The Arkansas quarterback pledge was 11 of 17 for 143 yards and three touchdowns in a 54-0 win over Opelousas.
• Kiel Pollard, WR, 6-2, 225, Moultrie, Ga., Colquitt County: Pollard had 3 catches for 33 yards, 3 rushing TDs, one 2-point conversion as Colquitt County (9-0) remained unbeaten with a 33-14 win over Camden County.
• Devwah Whaley, TB, 6-0, 205, Beaumont, Texas, Central: Whaley, who is scheduled to take an official visit to Arkansas on the weeked end of Nov. 21, had 155 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries as his team routed Baytown Lee 42-6.
• Kofi Boateng, WR, 6-1, 180, Arlington, Texas, Lamar: Boateng had one catch for 17 yards as Arlington Lamar beat Arlington Sam Houston 41-6.
• Tyrie Cleveland, WR, 6-3, 190, Spring, Texas, Westfield: Cleveland had 6 catches for 205 yards and 3 touchdowns as Spring Westfield beat Klein 33-6.
• Tyson Morris, WR, 6-2, 180, Fayetteville: Morris had 10 catches for 165 yards in Bentonville' 37-26 win over Fayetteville.
• Taylor Powell, 6-1, 180, Fayetteville: The junior quarterback was 25-of-38 passing for 293 yards in his team's 37-28 loss to Bentonville.
• Nathan Page, WR-DB, 6-0, 180, Pulaski Robinson: The sophomore standout had a 54-yard interception, 10 tackles and also caught a touchdown pass in the Senator' 51-16 win over Ozark.
• Jonathan Adams, WR, 6-3, 190, Jonesboro: The junior had 5 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns as Jonesboro whipped Marion 56-41.
• Alex Day, TB, 5-9, 190, North Little Rock: Day had 21 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns in a 47-28 win over Little Rock Central.
• Demekko Clark, TB, 5-8, 185, Blytheville: The junior -w who had a school-record had 26 carries for 257 yards in his team’s 27-20 win over Forrest City.
• Pierre Strong, TB, 6-1, 185, Little Rock McClellan: The junior had 15 carries for 183 yards and two touchdowns and also had an 85-yard kickoff return called back because of a penalty as his team beat Jacksonville 42-18.