Tyler Byrd was one of the “forgotten” players on Tennessee’s roster heading into the 2019 season. The senior wide receiver joined the Vols as a highly-acclaimed four-star prospect in the 2016 signing class, and he flashed plenty of potential as a freshman, catching 15 passes for 209 yards and gaining 63 yards on eight carries. He showed some promise in special teams, too, returning 10 kick-offs for a 26.3 yard per return average, including a 67-yard return.
Then, Byrd disappeared off the face of the planet.
Despite appearing in all but three games over the last two seasons, Byrd’s impact was minimal on Tennessee’s offense. In 21 game appearances, Byrd totaled a mere four catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns. Only one of those receptions came last season in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as head coach. Under Pruitt, Byrd was used as little more than a blocker in the run game last season.
In the era of the transfer portal, nobody would’ve faulted Byrd for trying his luck somewhere else. But he stayed at Tennessee for his final year of college, and Vol fans are certainly glad he did after Saturday.
Byrd turned a simple route into an electrifying 39-yard touchdown to seal Tennessee’s 20-10 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon. The score gave the Vols a 10-point advantage with 2:35 to go in the game, and that proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Bulldogs.
After the game, Byrd was asked if he ever considered transferring off UT’s roster and looking for another opportunity elsewhere. According to Byrd, that thought never crossed his mind.
“Nah, not really,” Byrd replied when asked if he ever thought of transferring. “I feel like if you leave somewhere you’re kinda giving up, and I didn’t want to give up. I just fight for it. If I don’t win and come up short, that’s fine with me.”
Byrd’s fight paid off on Saturday.
That touchdown grab wasn’t the only play the senior made against Mississippi State, either. In the first quarter, Byrd caught a 16-yard pass from Brian Maurer for a first down to set the Vols up in Mississippi State territory. The touchdown had a bigger impact on the final score, but Byrd made multiple plays against the Bulldogs.
All in all, Byrd caught three passes for 56 yards and that game-sealing touchdown. His 56 receiving yards were the second-most yards Byrd has totaled in a game in his career, finishing just shy of his three-catch, 60 yard performance against Texas A&M in 2016 as a freshman.
For Byrd, Saturday’s win over Mississippi State was proof that execution trumps all, and he hopes his teammates see that.
“Today was extremely fun. When you do things the right way and you execute one play at a time, you can kinda get rolling,” Byrd explained. “Hopefully it was good for the locker room so people can see how things work if you execute and how the environment can change.
“If you just do things right, you can create special things.”
Byrd had nearly as many catches in Saturday’s game as he had the last two years combined, and he totaled more receiving yards in one game than he had in his previous 24 appearances dating back to the final three games of the 2016 season.
The senior’s resurgence on Saturday serves as a lesson not only for him, but for any other player who may be fighting through struggles and questioning why they’re in the position in they’re in.
Hard work and patience can pay off.
“You just gotta keep up the hard work,” Byrd stated. “Things don’t always go your way all the time, but you just keep fighting. Hopefully the plays will come your way sometimes.”