How did you get involved in coaching a 7-on-7 football team?
"Actually, it was two years ago. Scout.com contacted me about putting a team together. Andrew Bone, who is from the Alabama Scout.com site, asked me about putting a Tennessee team together to play in the Badger 7-on-7 in Birmingham, Alabama. At the time, I didn't know how it worked. And getting kids together to play teams from Georgia and Florida was was going to be really tough to do. But with the help of high school coaches in the West Tennessee area, including Memphis, it turned out to be really successful."
I've been to one of your combines recently and it is obvious in that short period of time you have become well known among the kids in Tennessee. How did that happen so quickly?
"I had done combines before 7-on-7 but 7-on-7 really helped me. The word of mouth among players helped. A lot of players tell the younger guys about me and tell them they need to talk to Coach Byron because he can help you. A lot of those guys really respect me and look up to me so the word of mouth from them has really helped."
As I mentioned, you don't just coach the West Tennessee Express 7-on-7 team, you also have combines. You only charge $25 to attend a combine, so it's obvious you aren't in it for the money. What are the reasons for doing the combines?
"The biggest thing with the combines is the exposure for the kids. You try to find those kids who are hidden gems. A lot of these kids come from single-parent homes. And many times their parent might work 2 or 3 jobs and can't take them kids to combines far away from their home. So, I bring the combines to them. I travel around doing combines at different locations. I've done one combine in Memphis and that was one of the biggest combine successes that I have done. There were 80 kids there and out of those 80 kids 60 signed BCS offers during the course of the last three years."
It must be a great feeling to know you probably had a part in those 60 kids signing scholarships.
"It makes me feel really good, not just because the kids signed a football scholarship, but because I know where many of them come from and I know the struggles many of them have had to deal with. I was in those same shoes growing up. I had no mother or father there and was raised by my great-grandmother. So, it is great to see a kid like a Will Redmond sign with Mississippi State. His father was murdered eight years ago and he grew up in a single-parent home. His mother raised three kids by herself. Now, the kid has a full ride scholarship to Mississippi State. Those are the success stories to me.
"Growing up in Memphis is tough because the lifestyle in Memphis is a very tough lifestyle. A lot of kids can't really relate to the Memphis kids. The Memphis kids are very hungry and want to get out of their environment and have success. And something about the Memphis kids is they don't forget you if you help them. They will come back to help you out. They will come back and help their community."
Going back to the 7-on-7 teams, what are the benefits of playing on a 7-on-7 team in tournaments?
"There are a lot of benefits. You are not just competing against the top players in your area but you are competing against some of the top players in the country. We played against De'Anthony Thomas who is at Oregon right now and was one of the top players in the country last year. He was Freshman All-American this past year. Because they are playing against that type talent, it gives the kids a chance to compete on a higher level, kind of like playing in the SEC. There is no football better than the SEC because of the speed. As they say, speed kills. And there is a lot of speed in the 7-on-7.
"A second benefit of 7-on-7 is it gives the kids exposure and allows them to make a name for themselves.
"Finally, these kids build lasting relationships. As an example, when I play each weekend I receive a text from De'Anthony Thomas on Friday wishing me good luck. I'll also text him on Saturday wishing him good luck. It's a relationship that we have built. I talk to a lot of high school and college guys all over the country on a regular basis. 7-on-7 is bigger than high school because of that."
There are a lot of positives about 7-on-7 football. What are some things that concern you about it?
"You have the negatives such as the so-called street agents. But the thing I tell people about the street agents is it's about educating your kids. You make sure they know what to look for so it won't happen. If you are doing dirty, then it will give the kids the leeway to do wrong.
"I remember last year when I pulled my team together at the 7-on-7 regionals and told them about a street agent. I pointed him out and told them I didn't want them to have anything to do with him. I am very protected of these kids. Their parents trust me with their kids. So, it is my job to protect these kids when they are with me. Because of that, it helps me build a family environment with my kids.
"I know there are a lot of people out here who look at (7-on-7 football) as a financial gain, what can they gain out of it? The only gain I want out of it is to see these kids get out of the environment they are in and make it to a four-year institution where they can further their education. I tell my kids without an education they are going to be flipping burgers at a restaurant. With a football scholarship and a free education you can write your own ticket."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.