Recruited to play cornerback at NC State, Byers started eight games in 2008 as a redshirt freshman and tallied 44 tackles and two interceptions. Checking in right around 170 pounds, Byers gave effort but was at times physically overmatched at the safety position, where the Wolfpack needed him to contribute.
He injured his shoulder that year but continued to play while dealing with the pain. He was able to start two more games in 2009 as he recorded 31 tackles, but the pain grew more intense and his playing time dwindled.
Following the season Byers had shoulder surgery to correct the issue, and he believes he is poised to have a strong junior year.
"I feel great right now," he said. "I'm glad I got everything taken care of in the offseason, and now I can play worry-free... pain-free from any injuries. I can just play my game."
"[Justin Byers has] played actually for two years with a shoulder," NC State head coach Tom O'Brien recently stated. "That's put him behind... he gutted it out for us for two years. He had surgery in the offseason... it was one of those things he could have played with.
"It wasn't as bad his first year but got progressively worse last year. He had to have surgery, and he got it in the offseason. Now he is back to 100%."
The depth chart in the secondary is deeper than when Byers enrolled, and it has enabled him to move back to cornerback full-time where he is competing for a starting job.
"It's his natural position," O'Brien said of Byers moving back to cornerback. "He's back to playing his position. I think he's much more comfortable there, and I think it's a position we need him at now. He's doing a good job for us."
"I think it's been a smooth transition," said Byers. "I've been playing both positions since I've been here so it's kind of not real new, but it's about getting back in the groove because I'm now a full-time corner instead of switching back-and-forth. I'm ready to go."
Since the surgery Byers has been able to mature even more in the weight room. He now packs 190 pounds on his 6-foot frame and has plenty of size necessary to play cornerback.
"Man, I was playing safety at 172 pounds," said Byers, laughing. "I feel definitely strong at this weight to play out at corner. I'm stronger and bigger, but I've had to improve my conditioning because I'm chasing receivers now a lot more, not just backpedaling off the hash."
The redshirt junior feels that because he spent two years at safety he knows what is expected of him at cornerback.
"I feel like moving from safety to corner helps me understand the defense even more and contribute even more," said Byers. "When you're at safety you may think you wish a corner got a jam in a certain coverage. Well now that I'm at corner I know in certain coverages not only what I have to do at corner but also the role of the safety behind me. I feel confident that I know what the whole secondary's role is in our scheme because I've had to play both spots.
"I feel good about understanding the defense because they changed it up a lot since last year. It's more simplified for the secondary. It's a lot less thinking and more just making plays. It allows us to fly around and do what we've got to do to be successful."
Being comfortable in the scheme is a huge plus for Byers, the only scholarship upperclassman in the secondary for the Wolfpack. With freshmen and sophomores all around him, he is often asked about certain coverages and playcalls. He has also been helping the three talented true freshmen, David Amerson, D.J. Green, and Dontae Johnson, adjust to the college game.
"They are going to add a lot of depth to our secondary," said Byers. "All three have done a fantastic job since camp started. All three are making plays and are real athletic. They've all been making plays and working their butts off to get playing time.
"Honestly I feel like all three of them can play at this level right now, but we just have to see what the coaches think."
When asked if he misses taking on blocking fullbacks or downhill-running tailbacks, Byers laughed but pointed out that he's going to have to still be physical when playing either boundary or field corner.
"Well, it's different than at safety when I was 170 in the box and had those big fullbacks and tailbacks running right at me," he said. "But, I'm still going to have to make plays and make tackles at corner.
"I like the fact that I'm out on an island now and get after the receivers more but playing boundary and field they still will need me to come up and make those tackles on the edge. I'll be ready for it."