Pardon the obsession, but Stanford still has huge needs in offensive line and defensive line recruiting in this 2004 class. And even if they didn't, the Card would still be all over 6'4" 270-pound Jeff Byers of Loveland, Colorado, who looks to be one of the most preeminent two-way linemen in the country. To back that up, I'll lay out three different measuring sticks:
Many recruiting services stack up high school players based solely on their comparative scholarship offer lists, plus off-the-record comments from the college coaches that dole out those offers. While not foolproof, the opinions of scads of coaches who make this their profession and who see miles of film plus in-person evaluations is not a bad way to gauge a player's worth. And if you subscribe to that theory, then prepare to be floored by Jeff Byers. By early-March he had written offers from UCLA, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Colorado State. Verbal offers communicated over the phone or in person have come from Stanford, Texas, Colorado and Alabama. Very recent offers have come from Nebraska and Oregon, and Byers expects that USC, Virginia and others are about to jump on board.
How about some raw numbers? Byers has played on the varsity squad at Loveland since his freshman year, when the won the state championship. He started at strongside offensive tackle from game one his sophomore year, and started six games on the defensive line. Loveland went to the state semifinals that year. This all in a program that has sent a pair of offensive linemen to Division I programs the last few years, and boast one of the top coaching staffs and strength programs in the state. Byers started at OT for the first two games his senior year, but moved to center to wreak greater havoc on defenses and had great success. On defense he started every game his junior year at DT and recorded 5 1/2 sacks plus 28 tackles for loss in a run-dominated league. That play on both sides of the ball earned him all-area first team honors and all-state honorable mention as a junior. He benches 375 pounds, squats more than 500 and runs like a jackrabbit. OK, maybe a 270-pound Chernobyl Farms rabbit, but this is a lineman who can run a legit 4.8 in the 40. Now before you roll your eyes and groan at that presumably inflated time, consider this datapoint. Byers runs track for Loveland in the spring, as well as throwing in some field events, and was electronically timed this month at his high school's first event of the season running a 4.76 40-yard dash. And that was electronically timed. Oh, and he was named first team all-area as a center in basketball this year.
Then there is film - the tale of the tape. This two-way star was kind enough to send tape to The Bootleg for evaluation, and after watching 28 minutes of plays on both sides of the ball, I find myself searching for superlatives. The early reputation I had heard on Byers was that he was a top offensive line performer, which was borne out on film. 90% of his plays were at center, and most of those had him pulling. Loveland's offense runs the ball a lot with the center pulling around the corner, and Byers fits the bill perfectly. He races down the field faster than most of the other players around him, and his quick little quarterback hardly has to break stride running behind his blocker. Byers is a punishing blocker who puts his man flat on his back, then moves downfield to plow down one or two more defenders. He gets off the ball quickly and shows great strength. Byers' footwork keeps him on balance and square to his target out of his stance and moving downfield. His film at offensive tackle is solid, but not eye-opening. Watching how well Byers pulls and how effortlessly he moves around, he looks to my eye like an All-American candidate at guard. For a team that needs a center, he could be a good one. But he could be a great guard.
My surprise came watching the film at defensive tackle. Some schools who have offered Byers are looking at him on defense exclusively (e.g. Oklahoma) and many on both sides of the ball (e.g. Colorado), but seeing was believing. The Loveland junior again jumps out at you with his speed and pursuit, both in closed space and in the open field. But watching him stop the run in the trenches was what caught my attention. He just has that explosiveness and quick reaction to the ballcarrier that makes a lot of plays and finishes the tackle in a flash. No question that Jeff Byers is a dominating presence stuffing the run and hurting the quarterback on defense.
So now that you're convinced of this Colorado junior's talent, the question remains wide open as to his collegiate future. One preliminary inquiry might ask if offense or defense is his preference. Though he says he won't choose a school on those grounds, he does offer up his enthusiasm for one side of the ball. "I love defense," Byers reveals. "[My coaches] just tell me to line up go balls-out and get the ball." According to Byers, his conversations with Stanford's coaches have indicated thus far that they don't care which side of the ball he wants to play - they can use his elite talent anywhere. He says that he has already talked with head coach Buddy Teevens, plus Tom Williams, Steve Morton and Wayne Moses on the Cardinal staff. "They say I'm a player they really need," he describes. "They tell me my grades are great, and I'm the kind of athlete who tends to go Stanford. They also say they are really excited with what they saw on my tape."
On the academic front, Byers boasts a 3.94 GPA, which he says contains a 3.89 core GPA. "I take school just as seriously as football," he charges. He will take the ACT test sometime this spring. Academics are also one of the top three criteria he lists for how he is evaluating his college choices. "You never know where your career in football will take you, so you need a backup plan. My parents have always really pushed academics in my life, though they will let me make my own decision when it's all said and done," he says. "A degree from Stanford is a helluva lot better than a degree from Kansas State, for example, and I can tell the difference between schools." Byers charges that Stanford, Texas and UCLA are the top three academic institutions in Divison I football and also says that for those reasons those three are his top favorites right now.
Also important to this sought-after lineman is the quality of the football program, including the coaching staff, and how much playing time could be afforded to him early in his career. "I don't want to sit on the bench for two years, and I don't want to be a tackling dummy. I want to play," he proclaims.
Byers also says that he can't truly sort out these programs until he gets an up-close look, and to that end he has a myriad of unofficial visits in the coming weeks and months. Currently on spring break, he is visiting Tex