“Time is like a handful of sand- the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers” Unknown
The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest bird, and in fact the fastest animal on the planet, when in its hunting dive, the stoop, in which it soars to a great height, then dives steeply at speeds of over 200 mph. Other feathered friends making the top ten fastest include the White-Throated Needletail (171 MPH), the Spur-Winged Goose (142 MPH), and the Red-Breasted Merganster (129 MPH).
The Gamecock is nowhere to be found. They are a specially bred bird, conditioned for increased stamina and strength. They are not known for speed. That is about to change.
Damiere Byrd didn't know he had the gift as an elementary school student growing up in Sicklerville, New Jersey. He was just faster than the other kids on the playground. He never thought much of it. He just knew he loved to run. Loved to race his friends. And at first, he really didn't want to play football. But when his buddies joined the midget league, he signed up too.
"I didn't really realize I was any good till I was nine years old," proclaimed the 17 year old senior.
The numbers are mind-boggling. He runs a 4.26 in the forty-yard dash. He holds a national high-school record 6.76 in the 60 meters. He is currently the record holder in the Garden State for the 100, 200, and 400 meter dash. He was there for a three-year stretch in which his high school, Timber Creek, went 15-0 and captured three straight state track crowns.
Lest you think that Damiere Byrd is a track guy playing football, think again.
According to Barry Every, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com: “Damiere will more than likely play early in his D-1 career because of his speed and hands. His ability to attack the ball with his hands away from his body is amazing. Byrd has the skill set to become an excellent kick returner."
As a junior, Damiere Byrd caught 38 passes for 605 yards and four touchdowns. He also carried the ball 78 times for 685 yards and eight more scores, adding two punt return touchdowns as well. Byrd was named first-team All-Conference and Group III and second-team All South-Jersey. He can bench press 235 pounds, squat 315 pounds and has a 34 inch vertical. Impressive figures for the chiseled 5'10", 165-pounder.
"I just want to get bigger and stronger. I want to play as a freshman at the next level. I want to be known for more than just a speed guy. I know I can do big things as a slot receiver," said Byrd.
Damiere had over two dozen offers to play major college football. The University of South Carolina was one of them. The 66-year old head coach, Steve Spurrier, doesn't move as quickly as he did as the Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida in 1966.
However, he hustled to the New Jersey suburbs for a home visit earlier this year. Spurrier's coaching success at his alma mater, including the national championship 15 years ago, made him a legend. The "Ol' Ball Coach" will be starting his seventh season at the helm of the USC Gamecocks. Long considered an offensive mastermind, he knows the impact that devastating speed can have on SEC opponents.
"It was an unreal experience watching Coach Spurrier walk up our driveway," Damiere's father Adrian told me, "He had been in North Jersey earlier that day. We knew he was going to have dinner with us. He told my wife Dana that he was a southern boy who enjoyed southern food. So we dined on fried chicken, collard greens and macaroni and cheese. The Coach had three helpings of those collard greens. He was just an ordinary guy. A genuine, down-to-earth fellow. I knew my son would be in good hands."
Marcus Lattimore, the premier freshman tailback in the country, was Coach Spurrier's key recruit the previous year. His mother made the coach learn the family's "Cha-Cha Dance" before her son committed. Did the Byrd's have any similar thoughts?
"No! The coach ate too much be to be breakdancing on our floor!" joked Damiere.
When signing day rolled around on February 5th, Damiere was not in the country. He had to fax in his letter to Columbia from Japan. He was overseas competing in an international track competition against the Japanese and the Germans. With less than a week to prepare in snowy Jersey and still in football shape, he was nipped at the wire by an Asian counterpart in a 60-meter race. Despite having to travel halfway around the globe, Byrd made no excuses.
"I hate finishing second at anything I do. I ran my best race. I'll do even better in my next competition."
And he did. At the illustrious Brooks Invitational in Seattle in late February, Damiere blew away the field in the 60 meter event, running a personal best and record-setting 6.70. At the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York City in mid-March, he captured the national crown in the same event: 6.74.
The clinching factor in choosing USC was his ability to play big-time college football and run track for a top coach in the Gamecocks' Curtis Frye. Byrd's ultimate goal is to participate in the 2012 Olympics in London.
So what would Damiere rather win, an Olympic gold medal or an NCAA football title for the Gamecocks?
"While the gold medal would bring tremendous pride to my country and myself, I am a team player. So I'd have to say the national championship. I'd like to get USC that first crown. A lot of people have won gold medals, but that would be real history!"
A 3.4 GPA honors student looking to major in sports medicine, Damiere Byrd is the epitome of what the Future College Athlete Association stands for: character, discipline and academic/athletic excellence. A role model in his Jersey community who enjoys speaking to youth groups, this is one Byrd of a different feather. With a soaring future as high as the sky.