Despite the difficulty in projecting high school linemen's abilities at the college level, every once in a while a "can't miss" player comes along. Jeff Byers appears to be one such individual not only from an athletic but also from an intellectual and character perspective.
Jeff, a senior in Loveland, Colorado, has everyone from Florida to USC to Ohio State to Texas vying for his services. Thus far he has visited Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Iowa, Colorado, Colorado State, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Stanford, and UCLA and more visits appear to be in the offing.
So what are the reasons for all this interest?
First, Jeff has abilities that coaches crave. Listed as 6'4" and 270-275 pounds, Byers lays claim to a 4.76 electronically timed forty-yard dash. He is nimble enough to play center on the basketball team. He understands leverage and the use of his body weight enough to compete in the shot put and discus for his track team. He works hard on his technique, footwork, and his speed – but still feels there is room for improvement. "I really think everyone can improve everywhere. I feel I can get faster, I can get stronger, I can be a perfectionist - get everything done and get it done right. I just feel like I can improve in every area."
Second, Jeff has the intellectual capacity to make all the line calls at the center position while excelling in the classroom. According to Jeff, "I take a lot of pride in my academics. It is something very important to me. I have a 3.95 on a 4.0 scale." Couple those numbers with a 25 on the ACT and Byers is already qualified. Not surprisingly, finding a school whose football program has a solid academic reputation is a priority for this young man who would like to major in Business. He intends to use the one to segue way into the other; "My father is in business. I feel like I really know a lot about it. I think I want to go into management. I think football really develops skills that can used in the business world such as leadership, people skills, learning how to communicate, etc."
Third, Jeff (from our brief conversation) appears to be a genuine young man with solid character. Instead of allowing the hype to balloon his head bigger than the doorframes in his home, Byers insists on deflecting praise and giving credit to others. When asked about his technique he stated, "I feel like I am pretty good technician."
Why? Was it his hard work or extra effort? Was it his dedication? Is it his natural athletic ability? Not according to Jeff.
"I feel very blessed we have a good offensive line coach. It is really hard to find a good offensive line coach in high school. He has made me into a technician, and that is half the reason I am getting recruited so well," he said.
Then there are his goals and accomplishments. When the subjects were broached, Jeff replied, "I don't know if I have one, but as a team our greatest accomplishment is winning the state title. Football is a really big team sport. I think the team makes me who I am."
What is his sole goal for 2003?
"I feel like I have one goal and that is that our team should win the state title," he said. "I don't feel like I should have any personal goals. Football is a team game. If the team succeeds, I will succeed."
No. Jeff Byers is not perfect. However, he is a pleasure to talk with and a very sincere young man from all indicators.
The hardened recruiting junkie might snicker and assume it is his media savvy that has him not picking an early favorite. Statements like, "I felt like all the schools I visited were great schools and had great coaching staffs," would make most presidential candidates proud of their speech writers for their opaqueness. They have been made in years past not only by prospects who were legitimately confused but also by those who were playing games with recruiters for the attention factor. However, the real reason Jeff has not chosen from among the teams yet is because he appears sincere in pursuing the best possible fit with his choice of colleges.
"I really am trying to keep my options open," he said. "I feel like if they have interest in me, I feel like I need to have interest in them until I find out something about that school that I dislike. I want to make sure I have the right fit for me. It is a big decision that will shape the rest of my life."
So where will Byers end up, and how will he decide?
"I have 3 criteria," he said. "The first is academics. I really pride myself on academics, and you never really know when something goes wrong in your football career and you have to fall back on them. Second would be the coaching staff. I really want to enjoy the coaching staff. I want to get along and for them to be a stable coaching staff – that they are not going to retire or go pro. Third is team chemistry. I want to fit in with the players. I want the players to have the same goals as me. I want the players to have the same passion for the game and want to succeed in and out of the classroom."
If Jeff holds to such principles and does his research by examining recent graduation rates, stability of the coaching staff, and team success and unity, not only will he eventually pare down his list to a very manageable number, but his life will likely be one that is better after football than during. It does not have to be said for those that follow college and professional sports, but folks - that is rare indeed.
Will distance matter in your choice of schools? – "No, I really don't think that is a big factor. I know my mom and dad will come out to all the games. I know no matter where I play they will come to the games. It does not really matter where you go to school. You are going to get the same time off wherever you go. You are going to be dedicated. Distance is not a big factor; that is easy to overcome."
What position will you play in college? – "Everybody says I can play either offense or defense but say my best fit is as offensive center. They are telling me that it is my choice and that it is where I feel most comfortable."
What kind of team would you fit on? – "I would fit in on a team where everyone gets along and has a real strong bond. They are all going to go out there day in and day out and get the job done whether it is in the weight room or on the practice field. Everybody is dedicated to making the team better no matter what spot you are on the field. Obviously the goal is to win the national title. I think if you do not have the goal of winning the national title you are doing something wrong."
Do you have any hobbies? – "I enjoy skiing, and I really enjoy fishing. I love the outdoors more than anything really."
Do you play any video games? – "No I do not. I am probably the worst high school kid at video games you will ever meet in your entire life. I go over to my buddies' houses and they won't even let me touch the things. I just watch and am a pretty good spectator."
If you had to pick a player to model yourself after, who would it be and why? – "I don't really have a role model. I guess it would be Michael Jordan. I just admired his work ethic and how he made everybody better. He always put in that extra five minutes – that extra ten minutes. He never gave up. When the game was on the line, he felt like he could make the play."
Name something people would be surprised to know about you… - "They might be surprised that I am a gentle guy."