Byrum Ready to Defy the Odds

Dion Byrum is in Indianapolis for a pre-draft visit today. He's expected to defy the odds next weekend by having his name called at the NFL Draft despite a Combine slight.

About 15 percent of the players chosen in the 2005 NFL draft weren't invited to the Combine. Dion Byrum, cornerback for Ohio University, will likely be one of those players in this year's draft.

To call Byrum's absence at the 2006 NFL Combine an oversight would be an understatement. His three defensive touchdowns ranked first in the nation; his six interceptions ranked second. The American Football Coaches Association named him an All-American cornerback, opposite Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams.

"It felt good because a lot of people look to the AP, but to me it's more of an accomplishment to get selected by the coaches because they deal with the players on a one-on-one basis," Byrum said.

Byrum was named to the first-team All-MAC and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. He also participated in the East/West Shrine game. Somehow all of these accomplishments and honors weren't enough for a Combine invite. "According to my agent, they don't necessarily go by your stats from the previous season. I don't know how it went down, but obviously I wasn't on someone's list as one of the people they wanted at the Combine," he said.

Byrum's Pro Day performance quickly proved that those who decided not to invite him to the Combine were wrong. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and recorded a 40-inch vertical. He has now worked out for about a dozen NFL teams. Despite all of this recent attention, Byrum keeps a level head about the draft.

"It's good, it's positive. At the same time you never know. A lot of people get brought into places and don't even end up getting drafted. It shows that there are teams out there that are interested in me, but you never know until draft day," Byrum said.

At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Byrum is the ideal size for a corner and is extremely durable, never missing a college game due to injury. "A lot of it is working with the strength coach and staying in shape. It's a mental and physical game so you have to be prepared for both," he said.

In addition to his abilities as a cornerback, Byrum is a very good special teams player as well. He finished his career ranked fifth all-time in kickoff yards and seventh in punt return yards at Ohio, returning kicks and punts throughout his four year career there. Byrum also played gunner on kick and punt coverage at Ohio. An outstanding running back at the high school level, he loves the opportunity to "play offense" on special teams.

"Being a gunner, or on special teams in general, I've always looked at it as a chance to be an offensive player. Even though a gunner is a defensive aspect, it still gave me a chance to go one on one with a defensive player who is considered a defensive back and my job was to beat him down the field and then make the tackle. With special teams, for that one play, I'm on offense," Byrum said.

Byrum thrust himself into draft contention during his team's nationally televised home opener against Dave Wannstedt's Pittsburgh Panthers. After Pitt jumped out to an early lead with a touchdown, Byrum became the equalizer, running back an interception 38 yards for a touchdown.

And then in overtime, Byrum made the play that won the game, scoring his second touchdown.

"We were in a nickel and a zone blitz on 3rd and 5. They hadn't established a run game all night, so they decided to pass," he recalled. "I played the three-step, read the quarterback and 85 yards later the game was over."

The significance of his feat wasn't missed by Byrum. But he was just as happy for his school as he was for himself.

"I established myself as one of the top corners, and at the same time it gave the university a chance to be seen on national television. It gave me that spotlight I needed to take myself to the next level," he said.

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