Byrd Flying High

It's ironic to consider that if redshirt junior, wide receiver Robert Meachem, should opt to leave college a year early in order to enter the 2007 NFL Draft, the prospect most capable of filling his shoes as UT's next go-to target will be arriving to Division I football two years late.

At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds with sub 4.4 speed and laudable leaping ability, Demetrius Byrd is the type of talent the Vols need, particularly if Meachem is a threat to depart UT along with fellow 2003 signees Jayson Swain and Bret Smith. That trio comprises UT's 2006 starters and its most productive pass catchers.

Byrd has taken a much different route to the precipice of stardom than former high school all-Americans Swain, Meachem and Smith. He didn't begin playing football until his senior year of high school at Miami Central, where he ran the 100 meters in a blistering 10.45 time for the track team. In his single season of 2004 at Miami Central, Byrd led the city and Broward County in receiving with 41 catches for 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns. From there he signed with Pearl River Community College to develop his game.

As a freshman the fleet Byrd caught 40 passes for 700 yards and seven touchdowns. This fall he has 27 receptions for 538 yards and 4 TD's and caught the winning touchdown in the Wildcats' last two games. He had a 77-yard TD reception to beat Holmes Community College on Oct. 9. Against Jones Community College he hauled in a 21-yard scoring pass with 56 seconds remaining to lift Pearl River to a 28-24 victory.

That type of clutch play indicates Byrd has made major strides as a receiver, and that the five-star playmaker is ready for a prime-time role. In that respect he is like his favorite receiver — the Cincinnati Bengals' Chad Johnson.

"I just like how he plays the game," Byrd told Steve Robertson of "He is having fun out there. I like his overall game. I try to play like he does. I have good hands and speed. My blocking ability is better this year. I have really worked hard on that."

Byrd doesn't shy away from the pressure moments that define a premiere pass catcher.

"I bring you a go-to-guy," he said of his game. "I'm a guy that has hands, speed, and can block. I'm the guy you can go to and count on to make that big play for you."

Pearl River assistant coach William Jones confirms Byrd's big-play ability, stating: "He's legitimately fast. He's our vertical and speed guy. He's got great ball skills, he's improved his blocking and he's a guy that everybody wants. He's a guy that, you can be on the one-yard line, and you throw him a vertical pass or a takeoff route and nobody will catch him. He's blazingly fast. Basically a Santana Moss clone, but in a bigger body."

There has been no shortage of college scouts watching the preseason JUCO All-American this fall. The finalists for his services include LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa State, Mississippi, Florida and South Carolina. UT and LSU are particularly attractive to Byrd due to their passing offenses and early playing opportunities.

The Vols already have a commitment from 2006 signee Brent Vinson, who is rated a five-star prospect and No. 6 among the nation's crop of high school wide receivers. He is currently attending Hargrave Academy in Chatham, Va., and is expected to enroll at UT in January as a freshman.

Having such a pair of speed burners at wide receiver would allow the Vols' high-octane offense to catch up in a hurry.

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