By Steve Irvine
Running to daylight is not necessarily the initial objective for Thompson High running back Shadrick Byrd when he has the football in his hands under the Friday night lights.
“I’d rather to run over a guy, but if I have to run away from them I will,” Byrd said with a smile.
Truth is, Byrd, a sturdy 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior, does both very well. First contact rarely brings him to the turf and getting a lot of defenders around him is a good plan. When he sees a crease, though, Byrd can get there quickly. He also is a huge part of the Thompson High passing game.
Not bad for a guy who began his football days far away from the spotlight. His first football assignment was in the trenches at right offensive guard.
“It was my first year of football and they just put me there,” Byrd said. “I was good with it. We were winning games and I was doing my job, so I was happy with it.”
A couple of years later, he slid back to running back and never left.
Byrd has developed into one of the state’s top running backs. As a junior, he accounted for more than 1,400 yards in total offense with nearly 1,200 of that coming on the ground. He scored 18 rushing touchdowns and added three more on receptions. He did those while not only playing on an explosive offense that spread the ball around but also a team that sat the starters for long stretches of nearly every second half.
“We have the best quarterback (Taulia Tagovailoa) in the country, so they look at him and think we’re going to come out and pass,” Byrd said. “Once I get the ball, I got to let them know I’m here (also). You can’t sleep on that running game, especially with all our backs. We just need to set the tone early for the running game.”
For Byrd, though, the only number that really matters to him was on the scoreboard.
“To go 12-1 last year, that was great for the city,” Byrd said.
Obviously, the lone blemish on last year’s record came to state champion Hoover in the Class 7A semifinals. That loss came four weeks after Thompson clinched the Class 7A Region 3 title with a 32-25 road victory over the Bucs. In the first meeting, Byrd rushed for three touchdowns, including a 30-yard burst on the opening drive of the second half. In the rematch, though, he didn’t fare as well.
“I didn’t have a very good outing,” Byrd said of the playoff loss to the Bucs. “It turned out to lead to a loss. I have to play better for the team, execute better, make the plays that should have been made.”
That approach to learning and getting better doesn’t just come on Hoover week.
“If you just look at the good, you can get complacent,” Byrd said. “But, if you look at the bad, you know what you have to get better at to improve your game. It just helps me play better once the lights come on.”
He’ll get the chance to do just that on Friday night when the Warriors head back to the Hoover Met to open up region play. As if it was ever in doubt, Thompson head coach Mark Freeman said getting the ball to Byrd is a big part of the game plan.
“We need Shad to play the best game he’s played in a long time on Friday,” Freeman said. “To beat Hoover, you’ve got to run the ball. You can’t just let them rush the passers and cover our guys. They’re athletic in the secondary. We’re counting on Shad. We’re trying to get that ball and go downhill.”
That’s not giving away a game plan secret. Byrd has been and will be a big part of every game plan this season.
Once he’s through, Byrd will take his skills to the next level. He said, as of now, the schools he’s more interested in are Wake Forest, Duke, Troy and Arkansas State. Many other schools have offered scholarships and others might in the future.
“I know it’s God’s plan, whatever he wants me to do, he’ll bring it to the light,” Byrd said. “I have to take it and run with it.”
Taking it and running with it has always been a solid plan for Byrd.