Albany QB Emanuel Byrd and the Indians (1-4 overall, 0-2 in Region 1-AAAA) are having a down year but Byrd — ever the optimist — refuses to hang his head. After all, he’s had a life tougher than most — his mother died when he was six, for starters — but he continues to plug along and excel in the classroom and on the football field. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Getting to know Emanuel Byrd:
The Dynamite “Half-Dozen” Q and A
Here are a half-dozen questions for our Dynamite Dozen players about their likes off the football field:
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: “My auntie’s pork chops.”
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: “He got game.’’
Q: Who is your favorite entertainer (movie star, comedian, singer etc)?
A: (Rapper) “Future’’
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
A: “Cam Newton. I love his charisma, his drive and his will to win.’”
Q: If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be with you?
A: (Actress) “Meagan Good.”
Q: Who is the person you owe everything to?
A: “I owe everything to my Aunt (Claudia Marshall).’’
ALBANY --- Her heart was bigger, her smile brighter and her determination stronger than anything Emanuel Byrd has ever faced on a football field.
And even today, Byrd speaks of her with love and reverence, the kind that comes from deep inside, the kind that lasts a lifetime.
After all, she saved him.
There are a lot of words to try to describe what Claudia Marshall did for Byrd and his brother and sister, but that sums it up — she saved him.
“She did,’’ said Byrd, a Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback who towers above opponents with a powerful arm, a quick and agile set of feet and a brilliant and savvy football mind that makes him the total package. When he’s finished at Albany High, Byrd will play college football. He just doesn’t know where, yet.
He’s that good, that bright and that talented.
“We haven’t had a quarterback like him in a looooong time,’’ said Albany High athletic director and basketball coach Archie Chatmon, who coaches Byrd on the court in the winter. “It’s been more than 20 years since we’ve had a quarterback of that caliber.’’
Andrico Carter, who starts at defensive back and receiver at Albany High sums up Byrd in two words: “He’s unstoppable.’’
Juwon Young, a Dynamite Dozen selection at linebacker who plays at Albany High then added: “I wouldn’t want to have anyone else at quarterback. He’s everything you want in a quarterback.’’
“He’s a great athlete, and a better person,’’ Chatmon said. “He’s a coach’s dream.’’
Byrd’s the complete package.
“His enthusiasm picks us up, and he is so humble about everything,’’ receiver Rantiez Williams said. “And he works so hard. He gives 110 percent when the coach asks for 100.
“That’s what keeps everybody else pushing, because he pushes himself so hard.’’
“You can’t out-work him. He will stay longer in the weight room. He will run longer on the track. Look at him now,’’ Chatmon said, pointing to Byrd on the other side of an empty football field after practice Wednesday.
Practice was over, but Byrd was setting up cones for a drill all his own, throwing late-afternoon passes to receivers.
Albany High football coach Felton Williams, who made Byrd his starting quarterback four years ago as a freshman, knows just how special No. 1 is.
“He’s one of those you don’t get too often,’’ he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better kid — on or off the field. You can always depend on him to do the right thing all the time.’’
And he knows why.
“Claudia Marshall, his aunt,’’ Williams said. “His aunt means everything to him. She raised him and his brother and his sister. I talked to her once about it and she told me that when she took them in, she thought about it. She said, ‘I had raised all my kids, but you can never say never. And raising them has been a blessing.’ ”
Then Williams stopped and started again: “Look how they have turned out. Roscoe, his older brother was a honor student and is on a football scholarship at UAB, and Emanuel will be on one next year.’’
Roscoe was 7 and Emanuel was 6 when their mother died. They had nowhere to go when their mother’s sister stretched out her arms and wrapped them around three kids who were in shock and grief. She did more than take in Roscoe, Emanuel and Stephanie, who was 13 at the time — she lifted them up when no one else could.
“I was in a shell for a long time,’’ Byrd said Wednesday after practice, remembering the worst moment in his life. “Me and my brother had to go to counseling for two years. Our mother had died, and we didn’t know who to trust. And then she was there for us. She gave us everything.’’
Byrd’s voice rises and falls when he talks about his “Auntie.’’ Every word is from his heart.
“I owe everything to her,’’ he said. “She really built the foundation of who I am today. She taught me how to be a man.’’
It was Marshall who introduced the Byrd boys to football. They had never played, and she took them to the Boys & Girls Club and signed them up to play.
“She’s the reason we started playing football,’’ Byrd said. “And she’s the one who gave me my drive to go on. She always said that when things are easy anybody can do it, but you need to push yourself to do your best when things are bad.
“She has done that in her life. She has beaten cancer twice. She is so strong. I remember when we moved in with her, she had a loose retina in her eye and had to wear a patch, but she would drive us places wearing the patch over her eye.’’
Resilient, tough and demanding the most of herself, Marshall was the walking-talking epitome of everything Roscoe and Emanuel grew up to be on the football field.
“I want to make her proud. That’s why I work so hard in and out of the classroom,’’ said Byrd, who has a 3.6 GPA. “She showed us the love we needed. It’s amazing how one person can do so much in your life. I will do anything for my aunt.’’
Byrd stars everywhere, as a quarterback, as a tough, hard-nose rebounder for Albany’s state-ranked basketball team and also in track, where he went to state in the high jump last spring.
“He was a guard and became a big rebounder for us last year,’’ Chatmon said of Byrd’s basketball skills. “He was a backup, but before the season started last year he told me he was going to be a starter. He said, ‘Someone better get ready to go on the bench.’ And he started. He made up his mind and did it.’’
Byrd is that kind of player on the field, tough and unrelenting and always demanding more of himself.
After last week’s 12-0 loss to Monroe in a game where a downpour wiped out any chances of a passing game in the second half, Byrd took all the blame for the loss.
“I blame myself,’’ he said. “I should have gotten rid of the ball sooner and got the ball to my receivers.’’
The truth is Byrd never had time to breathe because of an unrelenting pass rush that had the Albany High QB on the run all night.
It’s been like that all year for Byrd.
“I really feel for him,’’ Felton Williams said. “You want so much for him. This is his senior year, and you know he wants to have a big season, but not having an experienced offensive line, he’s had to be on the run all year. He hasn’t had the luxury to sit back there and pass the ball. I feel his pain. He’s running around (in the backfield) and trying to create a lot of stuff. He’s really, really good, and the sad thing about it is that people are not getting a true sense of what his ability is.
“He turned heads at the Georgia football camp and also at Auburn and Florida this summer, but he hasn’t really had a chance to show what he can do this year. He threw the ball 70 yards in the air at the Georgia camp, and everybody was talking about him, but he hasn’t had the time to throw it this season.’’
Last year as a junior, Byrd threw for more than 1,900 yards and 21 touchdowns and completed 83 percent of his passes. He made plays the kids at Albany High are still talking about.
“He scrambled through the whole defense on a play and broke about five tackles last year against Fitzgerald, and then threw me the ball in the back of the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown,’’ Rantiez Williams said. “He’s spectacular.’’
All the kids joke about how Byrd has literally run over linebackers and defensive backs in the middle of the field.
“He’s the man,’’ Carter said. “There’s just so much he can do. It’s amazing. He can scramble and be on the move and get you the ball.’’
Nothing has gone right for Byrd this season. He had to miss the Region 1-AAAA opener against Americus-Sumter because of a concussion he suffered a week earlier in a win against Mitchell County, and said it “was heartbreaking” not to be able to play. Then last week’s Monroe game was a compete washout in the second half. All together, Byrd has played in about 3 1/2 of Albany’s five games this season.
He has completed 25 of 40 passes for 415 yards, despite having 17 dropped balls in the first two games. He has thrown five TD passes and run for a TD. He threw for more yards than that after his first five games as a freshman.
“It’s been frustrating,’’ said Felton Williams, whose team is 1-4 and 0-2 in the Region 1-AAAA race. “But he has remained the same. He is still doing everything he can to help us win. He has been through so much adversity growing up and losing his mother when he was 6. I can’t even imagine going through that. He has gone through all that adversity to excel both in academics and athletics.’’
Byrd still believes.
“It’s kind of frustrating, but you have to keep your head up,” Byrd said of the tough season. “I still believe we’ve got a chance to get to the playoffs. You’ve got to have faith in yourself. I want to be great. I hate to lose, and I believe in the team. I’ve always been a team player. I guess it’s because when I was young, I was so small and was a team player then.’’
Still, Byrd will always want to take the blame for a loss.
“I feel I am supposed to make the play,’’ he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m never afraid to fail because of everything I went through when my mom died early in my life. My aunt was there for me and my brother and sister, and I want to play at the next level in college — and I want to do it for her. She made me who I am today.’’