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April 10, 2013
NC State defensive back Jarvis Byrd saw action in just four games last season. He played in each of the season's first four contests before he missed time with a thigh injury, and he was never able to work his way back onto the field.
However, those four appearances were a huge step in the right direction for the rising fifth-year senior from Pahokee, Fla., who started three games as a true freshman in 2009 but had not played since following a pair of torn ACLs.
"Getting back onto the field last year, I knew I was not fully healthy," he admitted. "My thing was just trying to get the feel of the game again. Once I got the feel of the game again, the coaches last year played me a little, but not as much as I wanted. I don't fault them for that because I knew the situation — I was coming off two ACL surgeries and that's serious. Last year was a learning lesson, getting my feel back and strengthening my body."
Despite the uncertainty he went through last year, the former four-star recruit knows where he and his body stand now. However, he has been lining up at both cornerback, the position he has played the previous four years, and safety, where he hasn't played since some very limited action in high school.
"I'm very confident that I'm back, 110 percent," he said. "I'm going to put it all on the line this year. I'll give it everything I've got in spring practices, the spring game and during our scrimmages.
"Staying healthy is a pretty big goal, probably my first goal. I know if I can stay healthy, I can perform on the field because football is what I do best. I believe that's what I was born to do. If I can stay healthy, I should be pretty good."
Byrd said he has been moved to the back line of the defense because the team must replace both safety starters this fall, while rising senior cornerback Dontae Johnson is a returning starter and rising redshirt sophomore Juston Burris has also proven himself at cornerback.
"He's been moving me around everywhere because I'm a veteran guy," Byrd said. "I know each position, so I've been playing a little corner and a little safety. I'm adjusting to things pretty good. I've just got to have a little bit more time to learn everything, but the more practice I get, the better I get at safety.
"Coming to the safety position, I'm catching on quick. I don't have a lot of experience there, but I'm getting a good feel for it. Every day in practice, I'm trying to get better and better at safety and at cornerback."
Johnson, who came to NC State as a safety before finding his way as a starter at cornerback last season, and Byrd have become especially close by watching a lot of film together and trying to help the other get acclimated to a position he's not used to playing.
"We try to stay in the film room and teach each other," Byrd explained. "He's helping me out and I'm helping him out. We just help each other out, we're growing as teammates and building a good friendship.
"The toughest part about transitioning has been reading my keys, you read more at safety. At cornerback, you basically read your receiver, or if you're in zone, you read 2-to-1. At safety, when they do a lot of motion, your keys change and you have to read the backfield and everything else."
Byrd joked that he receives two very different styles of coaching when going from fiery cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt to the more reserved safeties coach Clayton White, a former State linebacker, but he has enjoyed his time with all of the new staff members. The new regime has him thinking about the future and trying to obtain another season of eligibility due to his injury history.
"I've been talking to my uncle about the sixth year lately," he said. "If I'm able to get a sixth year, I'll definitely look into it because we've got a great staff who is really into coaching and getting to know the players personally. I'd love to get another year to play under these guys."
Outside of staying healthy, Byrd does not get too specific about his goals for the upcoming season. He wants to help the team as much as possible, and with a young and unproven secondary, a big part of that is serving as a leader.
"My goal for the spring is to come out here and help contribute to the team, make us the best defensive unit we can be," he said. "For the fall, I'm just going to continue to be a vocal leader and help my team out. I want our defense to be ranked in the top three of the ACC, ranked in the nation and hopefully we can win a good amount of games, so we can go to the ACC Championship.
"I try to get the guys playing behind me to get better and better everyday. I've had two ACL surgeries in my career, so in case I go down again, I've got to make sure those guys have learned it also. I'm not a selfish guy, I want everybody to learn the defense because I believe the best man will win the position. I coach the young guys at cornerback and I coach the young guys at safety; I have teammates that do a good job with that, too, with Dontae, Juston Burris and Hakim Jones."
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