'Ol' Reliable' makes strong impression at LB

DESCRIBING IT AS a remote possibility in early February might have been an overstatement. But that was before Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell were dismissed from Washington State's football program. Their departures might create a rare opportunity for WSU walk on and Pullman High graduate Jared Byers to make opening-game starts in back-to-back seasons -- and on opposite sides of the ball.

Byers, who moved to linebacker earlier this year after solid work at fullback under former coach Paul Wulff, put himself in that position by making a favorable impression on two different coaching staffs.

With no fullback position in the Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, Byers said he "figured" after the coaching change that his future would be on defense.

And when Byers and fellow running backs Eric Oertel and Kyle Lappano were called to a meeting with the new defensive coaching staff last winter, the 6-2, 232-pound third-year sophomore said he knew he was headed to linebacker.

Byers actually came to WSU as a linebacker in 2009, but made the switch to fullback early on and saw immediate playing time there as a true freshman.

The Pullman High Pipeline

QB Timm Rosenbach (1987-88): Set WSU and Pac-10 single-season records in 1988 for total offense (3,422) and passing yards (3,097), and had the highest quarterback rating in the nation. Led Cougs to 9-3 record, including fabled road win over No. 1 UCLA. Later the starting QB for Arizona Cardinals.

TE Pat Beach (1978-81): First-team All-American pick by Sporting News in 1981 after helping Cougs to their first bowl berth in 51 years. Played 11 seasons in the NFL, nine with the Colts, as tight end and long snapper.

OL /DL Bill Berry (1958-60) : A member of the WSU sports hall of fame, he earned three letters in football and three in wrestling. Was a two-way starter for the Cougars as a 5-7, 165-pound lineman. Named second-team All-Coast as a sophomore.

OL Buzz Brazeau (1969-71): First-team Associated Press All-Coast and East-West Shrine Game pick. Helped clear the way for running back Bernard Jackson's electrifying senior season, which included a stunning upset at Stanford.

LB Steve Bartelle (1966-68): Multi-year starter. In 1968 he was the first-ever recipient of the Niemi Award for courage, spirit and attitude. The same year he also won the Bohler Award for integrity and inspiration.

WR Fritz Brayton (1971-73): Bobo's son was a three-year letterman who led the team in receiving with 23 catches in 1973.

Other Pullman Notables:
QB Prexy Bryan (1906-08), RB/LB Jared Byers (2009-present), LB Joe Gecas, (1998-99), C Orin "Buster" Hollingbery Jr. (1941-42), Donald Knapp (1938-39), LB Serign Marong (1998-2001), Milo McIvor (1920-21), WR Cotton Sears (1984-86), WR Jody Sears (1989-90), DB Cole Sheridan (2000-02), Leon Shannon (1922-23), OL Mel Thompson (1949-53), OL Herbert Wexler (1905-08), Frank Watkins (1922-23), Charles Wood (1937-38)

Nearby (within 20 minutes) Notables:
From Colton: OL Fred Kramer (1924-26), HB William Kramer (1923-25), OL Steve Busch (1969-71) and LB Sam Busch (1976-79); From Palouse: WR Doug Flansburg (1965-67) and OL Alf Langdon (1913-15); From Albion: OL Asa Clark (1911-15); From Colfax: TE Jon Kincaid (1995-97) and OL Brian Danaher (2008); From Moscow: QB Mike Pattinson (1989-93).

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Byers' initial, though brief, stint at linebacker when he first arrived at WSU didn't serve as much of a foundation for his switch this past spring. "When I came in as a freshman, everything was a little over my head," Byers said. "I don't really have a comparison."

Linebackers coach Jeff Choate said Byers had to "reprogram" himself to his new position.

"I mainly had to just how learn to read a play again and how to get off blocks," Byers said. "My job before was to stick people, now it's to get off them."

Byers, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, figured it out quickly. Choate told CF.C in recent days that Byers could even be on the field for the first defensive snap Thursday at Brigham Young.

"I call him, ‘Ol Reliable,'" Choate said. "He's someone who is really hard to keep off the field."

SIMILAR TO A baseball manager who might bring a right-handed bat off the bench against a left-handed specialist, Choate always is looking to exploit advantages. At Boise State, Choate said the coaches were not afraid to change personnel each down. It is a philosophy he continues to embrace.

That means, said Choate, looking at a player through his strengths. A right-handed bench player in baseball might struggle against pitchers who throw with the same hand, but be valuable as a lefty and Choate said linebackers are the same way. While Byers struggles in pass coverage at times, Choate said "he's stout against the run."

"When I see Jared, I think it's a game of matchups. If I know there's a high probability of a run, why wouldn't I want to use (him)?"

IN A SENSE, BYERS HAS been a situational player throughout his career -- without complaint. After the move to fullback in October 2009, he started against Arizona and Oregon State that season.

"I definitely didn't expect to play that year," he said. "I was grateful to be out there."

And Wulff said Byers' performance in the Notre Dame loss in 2009 was a sign of things to come.

"If you go back and watch the film ... he really played well," he said at the time. "You can expect to see him in there. I'm very excited about that young guy."

Even though fullback was not a staple of Wulff's offense -- he generally started three wide receivers -- Byers took the first snap in 2010 against Oklahoma State. His season also ended that day when he tore the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee. Byers is reticent to discuss the injury other than to say his knee is "alright."

He said the year away from football was challenging, but this would be Byers' final year of eligibility had the injury not occurred. Choate is glad that is not the case simply because he enjoys coaching him so much.

"He loves football," he said. "I love coaching guys who love football. And I love Jared Byers."

For Byers and his teammates, they would love to advance the Cougars to a bowl for the first time since 2003. That quest now is just days away.

"We're feeling good," Byers said. "I feel like we have improved as a team. Everyone has worked hard during the summer. Everyone is excited to go down to Provo and show the progress we made. We're ready to get going."

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