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Cougs’ Byers feels at home

Byers (The Spokesman-Review)
Byers (The Spokesman-Review)

Pullman High grad finds spot as blocking back

PULLMAN – There is probably no player on the Washington State University football team who has seen more Cougars games than Jared Byers.

After all, every game in Pullman for the past 18 years has been a home game for him.

From the 2002 Apple Cup double-overtime defeat that crushed his spirit to watching and cheering for former Cougars fullback Jed Collins, WSU football played a big part in the 18-year-old’s life – a life he’s always lived in Pullman.

But being a football player with aspirations to play beyond his stellar Pullman High career that ended last fall, Byers didn’t think there was much chance he would stay in his hometown for college.

After all, as with most 6-foot, 200-pound, not-overly-fast, high school linebackers/running backs, Pac-10 schools weren’t sending a lot of handwritten letters to the Great Northern League’s defensive MVP.

So Byers was resigned to playing his college football outside the Palouse.

“I never knew this opportunity was going to take place, but I’m extremely excited it did,” Byers said.

The opportunity he’s talking about is, in general, the chance to walk on at Washington State.

That came about last spring when co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball, who has a son at Pullman High, helped Byers garner a walk-on spot with the Cougars.

But there’s another opportunity to which Byers is referring.

Let’s go back a little more than a month.

Byers was home – he lives with his parents and commutes to classes – after practice one night when the phone rang. His younger brother answered. It was WSU coach Paul Wulff.

Wulff asked if Byers, who played fullback in high school, would mind switching over to offense this week. The Cougars need a blocking back.

“He’s a tough kid who wants to be a football player and he has some physical ability as well,” Wulff said later. “He’s got a chance to really help this program.

“When he’s in the game, he does good things. … We’ve tried to find that second back, blocking-back type of a guy.”

Byers turned out to be the guy.

The freshman played a handful of plays that week against Oregon, sticking his nose into the pile ahead of Dwight Tardy or Logwone Mitz or fellow freshman Carl Winston.

More plays followed against Arizona State and California, all as a blocker. Then came Notre Dame last week.

Early on, Byers leaked out in the flat after a run fake and caught a 12-yard pass from Jeff Tuel.

“I was so happy when they passed to me,” he said. “My parents at home watching, they went crazy.”

Later, Byers started lining up just off center close to the right tackle. From there, his blocks helped spring Tardy for a 20-yard gain and Mitz for another 12 on WSU’s first scoring drive.

“I never thought I would be playing against Notre Dame, that’s for sure, unless it was on a video game,” Byers said.

Byers knows it’s not Playstation III he’s playing. Banging around the line of scrimmage, living the dream, has reinforced that. And he knows he’s going to have to add to the 207 pounds he carries if he wants to reach his new dream.

“There’s just one more dream, of going to a bowl game,” he said. “I think we’re going to get there very soon.”

The odds say that’s a long way off, considering the Cougars are 1-7 headed into Saturday’s game at Arizona. But Byers has beaten the odds before.