Player Spotlight: P.J. Byers
When the Penn State football team takes the field Saturday afternoon against Navy, dreams of National Championships or conference titles will not be in the minds of any of the Nittany Lions. Instead, they will continue to play for pride, and for a healing Penn State community. But for one member of the squad, Saturday’s contest against the Midshipmen has an extra bit of importance.
P.J. Byers is a former walk-on fullback who, in his final season at Penn State, has amassed a grand total of one yard rushing in his three-year career. After beginning his collegiate career at Marietta College, Byers walked-on to Penn State before the 2010 season. His story however, dates back long before that.
Saturday, a few days past the 11th anniversary of September 11th, two worlds collide. Having spent seven years in the Navy before enrolling at Penn State, Byers will line up Saturday against men that he may one day be commanding.
Byers is pursuing a Penn State degree in order to become a Navy officer, a dream he says began with the events of 9/11. He initially entered boot camp in 2003 to become a Navy Seal, but a failed eye examination shifted his career towards becoming a dive specialist.
“If I got a carry, a chance to block or get on the field for any play, it would mean the world to me,” Byers said Tuesday at the team’s weekly press conference. “I’m already more grateful that I have a position on the team, but that would just be awesome to me.”
For two years now, Byers’ only real job on the football team has been to mimic the opposing team’s fullback in practice. But despite his lack of in-game experience, Byers is looked upon by his teammates as a leader.
“A lot of people look up to P.J.,” senior defensive end Pete Massaro said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team.”
In a time where the Penn State football program and its fan base need to come together more than ever, the senior fullback represents all of the reasons that fans should be proud of this team. Byers will not have the option of playing in a bowl game, and likely won’t ever appear in a football game. Despite that, Byers has chosen to stick with football, even in its darkest hour.
“We have one mission here, and that’s winning every game that we come up to every week,” said Byers. “So, as one team, we work toward that mission, just like a dive team would when I was a diver.”
Byers currently holds a 3.1 GPA and is set to graduate in May. A likely Academic All-Big Ten candidate, he has managed to balance the rigors of schoolwork along with football and continuing to be an active member of the Navy.
In Penn State’s two losses against Ohio and Virginia, Byers has yet to see the field, but head coach Bill O’Brien alluded Thursday evening in his weekly call-in radio show that a “new ball carrier” will be used on Saturday. Whether that means Byers will get his shot or not remains to be seen, but a simple fullback dive to number 45 on “Military Appreciation Day” would be a moment he would never forget.
Matt Lawrence is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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