By Derek Belt
Sept. 22, 2005
FOLEY, ALA. — The Foley Lions have been reborn, and Roosevelt Byrd is a big reason why.
Just four games into the season, the Lions’ junior quarterback has thrown for 762 yards and 10 touchdowns while leading Foley to its first 4-0 start since 1995. He’s also rushed for 160 yards and five touchdowns, orchestrating the Lions’ new-look, high-powered offense with stunning proficiency.
Not bad for someone who once figured he would end up in jail.
When Byrd was an 8-year-old growing up in the Daphne area, he said his father was shot and killed after trying to buy drugs with counterfeit money. Byrd said his mother was constantly down on her luck and was of little help to her four children.
He said he was certain nothing good would come of his life if he simply stayed put. So he left, albeit reluctantly.
“I was with the wrong crowd and hanging out with the wrong people, just seeking trouble,” said Byrd, now 17. “Some people don’t need that. If you’ve got everything going for you, you don’t need to take that route. I was fortunate enough to get a different route and start a new life.”
Five years ago, Byrd and his younger brother, Anthony, went to live at the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Boys Ranch in Summerdale—part of a statewide organization that cares for school-age kids from troubled backgrounds.
“Most teenagers will take the situation and push it, but it doesn’t get you anything but a hard time,” said Byrd. “I was one of those types who wanted to take a different route. I wanted to be the one to go further.”
The ranch wasn’t a perfect fit for Byrd in the beginning, with all of its rules and regulations. But as the days went by and Byrd settled in, the ranch’s rigid structure—with responsibilities ranging from daily chores to farm work—began to impress upon him the importance of a strong work ethic.
Before he knew it, things had already changed for the better.
“I wasn’t mature enough to see the situation (at first), but as I grew up I saw what everybody was doing for me and how everybody was pushing me to do the right thing,” said Byrd. “As a young teenager, if you grow up in an area like I did, you’re bound for trouble. So if you get a chance to get out, you should take it. If I would have stayed around there I probably wouldn’t be doing all the things that I’m doing today. I’d probably end up in jail somewhere.”
That Byrd was able to distance himself from his past is a testament to the strength of his character. It’s also the reason he was able to work his way into Foley’s starting quarterback role.
After spending last year’s 0-10 season as a backup in the Lions’ run-first system, Byrd went to work in the offseason and won the starting nod in spring drills under first-year coach Todd Watson.
Watson and crafty new offensive coordinator Joel Williams brought a different game plan to Foley this year, with Byrd being the primary benefactor of the Lions’ new scheme.
In only his third career start, Byrd set the school record for passing yards in a game with 243 yards against Baldwin County High on Sept. 15.
Watson is already talking about Byrd in the same breath as some of Foley’s past standout quarterbacks, such as Lester Smith, who went on to coach the Lions to some of their greatest years, and former Alabama and Oakland Raiders star Kenny Stabler.
“If he stays away from injury, I fully expect him to shatter most of the records around here,” said Watson. “He just needs experience. The more he plays and gets to see different coverages, the better he’s going to be.”
Byrd’s 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame is sleek yet solid. His powerful arm and swift legs make him a threat to either run or pass, though he likes to think of himself as a passing quarterback who can move when called upon.
Physical attributes aside, Byrd’s biggest strength may be his team-first attitude. In an age when most quarterbacks tend to take most of the credit, Byrd would rather compliment his offensive line, receivers and running backs before stepping into the spotlight himself.
“I don’t try to go out there and say ‘I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.’ I just go out and play,” said Byrd. “Some quarterbacks get a big head and say they’re the star of the team, but I don’t see myself like that because there’s no ‘I’ in team. It’s everybody, and if it’s everybody you’ve got a great team. I just go out there and try to put my team ahead and get them motivated.”
Watson said Byrd’s early-season accomplishments have resulted in Division I schools such as Alabama and LSU sending Byrd correspondence, although Byrd admitted playing for Auburn would be his top pick if he had to choose right now.
Things change, though, as Byrd knows from past experiences.
“You wake up one day thinking that life isn’t bringing anything your way and you ain’t got nothing going for you, then the next day you’re getting letters from colleges looking into you,” he said. “As a teenager growing up, I never would have thought this would go so far.”