By the beginning of the fourth round, every receiver rated near Demetrius Byrd had been liberated from the limbo between college football and the NFL. Drafted. Chosen.
With each selection announced, each dream realized, those players’ names were dutifully removed from the wall-mounted board in the San Diego Chargers draft room.
“Byrd, Demetrius” was alone, adrift.
“That name was just sitting there and sticking out, all that white around it,” said Chargers general manager A.J. Smith.
Meanwhile, Byrd was lying in a Miami hospital bed for the seventh straight day. A week earlier, on his way to pick up his mother at church, a blown tire sent him ramming into a utility pole. Full details of his injuries weren’t known but Byrd started out listed in critical condition with injuries to his shoulder and ear and multiple cuts and bruises.
By Tuesday, there were reports that the 22-year-old Byrd was able to respond to voices and blink on command were simultaneously damning and encouraging.
Thank God, he’d be fine. But who’s going to draft a kid whose main means of communication just days before the draft is a blink?
A.J. Smith is no softie. He’s as hard-edged a GM as there is in the league. But he also has guts and selecting a kid who just got out of intensive care would take exactly that. Even in the seventh round.
So Smith got together with the rest of the Chargers principals at that point — owner Dean Spanos, head coach Norv Turner and assistant GM Ed McGuire — and said that, if Byrd was still on the board in the seventh round, Smith wanted to discuss selecting him.
“We talked about it and decided that, if he’s still there in the seventh, we might take him,” said Smith. “That way, he can know his whole career and all his work wasn’t in vain; that he doesn’t go through the whole draft because of a terrible accident and then have David Dunn (Byrd’s agent) have to call every team to try and get him a chance somewhere. We decided, ‘We’re gonna take him and hope it works out for the best.”
When the seventh round came and the Chargers were on the clock with the 224th pick, the Chargers selected Demetrius Byrd.
Byrd, a 6-2, 195-pound wide receiver was a weapon at LSU. He was a key part of the Tigers team that won the 2008 National Championship and last year caught 35 passes for 513 yards with four touchdowns. He’d gone to LSU by way of Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, which was where he wound up after playing just one season at Miami Central High School. In high school, he was not what one would call an engaged student until he realized he needed to focus and take his future more seriously.
"I really wasn't focused," Byrd told Rivals.com last summer. "I was pretty much doing my own thing."
Said his mother, Sharon, “He just never took anything seriously. ...He loved his PlayStation and he loved the telephone.''
But Byrd sharpened his focus and succeeded in salvaging his opportunities. So much so that the Chargers — and many other teams — felt he could make a major contribution in the NFL.
“We had him in high regard,” Smith said. “Most teams had him rated around (the third or fourth round). Just a great kid. Medically, people think we might know something (about his condition). We don’t know any more than anyone else.”
Last Sunday, after selecting Byrd, Smith said, “I’m not a sentimental (person).” He reiterated that this week.
“We’re not taking some non-player,” he said. “This is a legit player that we like. We felt comfortable drafting the kid at that spot full-well knowing it may not all work out. We hope it’s a happy ending; there are no guarantees. But now this young man’s career didn’t go up in vain going to get his mother at church when his tire blew out.
“And I do like the part that he’s a great character kid and that when he gets moving forward he’s a San Diego Charger. He’s got a team and he got drafted. And he gets his hat and t-shirt and everything else. Maybe that helps him in his rehab.”
Maybe it already has. On Thursday, LSU released a statement. Byrd is now walking and eating on his own. He may begin rehab this weekend.
A Chargers hat and T-shirt await.
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