Dennis Byrd, the first two-time All-America in the history of NC State football and the only Wolfpack defensive player to have his jersey retired, passed away Thursday afternoon at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, his family informed the NC State athletics department. He was 63.
Byrd suffered a heart attack on July 15 while undergoing an unrelated back surgery and never regained consciousness.
Recently selected for induction into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame, Byrd was one of the most dominant defensive tackles in Atlantic Coast Conference history, earning first-team All-ACC honors in each of his three years of varsity competition. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive tackle helped Coach Earle Edwards and the Wolfpack win a share of the 1965 ACC championship as a sophomore and was a consensus All-America in both 1966 and '67.
A member of the famed "White Shoes Defense" in 1967, Byrd was the physical leader of the defense that gave the Wolfpack its first national acclaim on the gridiron by beating third-ranked Houston in the Astrodome and rising to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, the high ranking in school history. However, the Wolfpack, with Byrd out of the lineup because of a knee injury, lost its final two games in the regular season, to Penn State and Clemson, before earning the school's first post-season bowl victory, a win over Georgia in the 1967 Liberty Bowl.
Byrd was the No. 6 pick of the American Football League's Boston Patriots in 1968, just the second first-round draft pick in school history after quarterback Roman Gabriel. But Byrd never fully recovered from the after-the-whistle knee injury he suffered against Duke late in his senior season. His professional career ended after two seasons.
Byrd maintained his love of football, spending 30 years as a North Carolina public school teacher and high school football coach at both West Lincoln High School in Lincolnton, N.C., and at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, N.C. He retired from teaching and coaching in 2004.
He also maintained his affection for NC State.
"All I had ever known growing up was ACC football, and I wanted to be a part of it," Byrd said in a 2007 interview. "There was not much question I was going to stay in state, and I wanted to play for NC State. I am not a big person for going out or being part of the night life. I'm not that kind of person.
"I am more of a down-to-earth person, and that's what appealed to me about NC State. I thought I could play anywhere in the country, but I wanted to stay here. I just wanted to play football."
His No. 77 jersey was retired in 2001. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Dennis Wayne Byrd was born on Aug. 31, 1946, in Pleasant Gardens, N.C. At the age of 5, his family moved to Lincolnton, N.C., in search of work in the textile industry. He played at Lincolnton High School for coach Von Ray Harris, along with future NC State teammate Steve Warren, currently a member of the NC State University Board of Trustees.
"Dennis was a dear, dear friend, and the thoughts and prayers of the NC State community are with his family," said senior associate athletics director David Horning. "I remember calling him the day we heard about his election to the College Football Hall of Fame. He was so happy and proud.
"I am so glad that he knew that he had been elected to the hall of fame. He
was very deserving."
Byrd is survived by his wife, Kim, and four children. Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.
Dennis Byrd's NC State highlights
• Sophomore starter
• First-team All-ACC
NCSU: 6-4 overall, 4-3 ACC, ACC co-champions
• First-team All-ACC
• Football Writers All-America (first team), NEA AA (first team), Associated Press AA (second team)
NCSU: 5-5 overall, 5-2 ACC (2nd)
• First-team All-ACC
• Consensus first-team All-America: Associated Press, UPI, Sporting News, NEA, Football Writers Association, Central Press, Time Magazine, Walter Camp Foundation, Playboy
• Selected for four postseason all-star games: East-West Shrine Game (San Francisco), Senior Bowl (Mobile, Ala.), Coaches All-America Bowl, College All-Star Game (Chicago)
NCSU: 9-2 overall, 5-1 ACC (2nd)