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May 27, 2012

Soaring Byrd headed to Challenge on a high

MORE: Five-Star Challenge | Underclassmen Challenge

Dallas Jackson is the National High School Sports Analyst for Rivals. Email him your questions and comments at DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

When the call came to invite Hatari Byrd to the inaugural Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, it was not met with the normal surprise of many other competitors.

The four-star safety from Fresno (Calif.) Central East was waiting for it.

Following his performance at the New Level Vegas camp, which saw him named as one of the top performers of the event, Byrd knew this invitation-only camp and 7-on-7 tournament was the next step for him.

"I was pretty certain I was going to get the invitation," he said. "I did really well at that Vegas 7-on-7 and so I figured it was going to happen for me. I was excited, but not surprised."

Rivals.com West Coast Analyst Adam Gorney was so impressed with Byrd at the Vegas event that he wrote: "Byrd resembles a professional bodybuilder, because he's ripped with muscle and has virtually no body fat on his frame."

Gorney added, "Byrd is much looser on the field and really just looks more comfortable playing in the secondary."

After previous evaluations noted his stiffness, it was that comfort level that Byrd had been working on for much of the offseason.

"It has been all covering and footwork and coverage for me," he said. "People see me as a safety, but I have to be able to cover. I think I showed that in Vegas, that I can be a standout player and not just a guy that can hit from the secondary."

The 6-foot-2 Northern Californian holds offers from 11 college programs ,and while he has not sorted his leaders, he has already taken unofficial visits to USC, UCLA and California.

Southern schools Georgia and Ole Miss have also offered, and his trip to Atlanta's Lakewood Stadium on June 22-24 will give him a quick taste of the heat and humidity that comes with potentially playing in the SEC.

"It will be good to get to that heat," he said. "I will be looking forward to that for sure."

The real reason for his trip is the chance to showcase his talent at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, an opportunity that Byrd said he could not pass on.

"I like everything about football," he said. "I really love playing and this is a big situation for me to show that I belong.

"There is going to be a lot of talent there and we don't see that much in Fresno, so to get to compete against that, it will be a great experience."

Byrd, along with Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln running back Justin Davis, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle defensive end Victor Egu, Fresno (Calif.) Central East teammate L.J. Moore, and Placer (Calif.) High defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes will be representing Northern California.

Aside from those players, Byrd said he is not focused on who else will be there, only himself.

"I don't pay attention to that stuff," he said. "There are good players from all over, so I am just paying attention to myself and staying focused on me.

"I need to keep improving, and that is where my head will be."

Mike Farrell's take

Byrd is an instinctive player who reads the play well and reacts. He is used to playing close to the line of scrimmage, so he will be up on slot receivers at times at the event, and he has the speed to turn and run like a cornerback. His ball skills are solid as well, but it's his instincts and knowing when to peel off one assignment to pick up another that sets him apart.



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