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Monday, July 1, 2013
My path to the pros

By LaRue Cook
ESPN The Magazine

Jairus Byrd
Byrd played basketball through his senior year in high school.

The beginning

At 7 or 8, I started playing rec-league basketball in San Diego. That was the first sport my parents put me in, and I played through my senior year of high school. My dad, Gill Byrd, was a cornerback for the Chargers, and he didn't like how kids were starting to play football so young. He told my brother [Gill Jr., who went on to play for New Mexico State] and I that we had to wait until we were 13. But we kept begging and got to start at 11.

The middle school days

Baseball also came around 10 or 11 too. We'd have Pop Warner practice then Little League baseball all in one day. We just loved to play sports. My brother was two years older, so I was always trying to beat him and his friends, which pushed me. I tried one year of indoor soccer in middle school, just to see what it was like. But it wasn't for me. We played football, basketball and baseball at a private school in Escondido, Calif. We moved to Wisconsin during middle school, and the style of play in football was night and day. California was more speed, and Wisconsin was all power.

The high school years

I played in Wisconsin at Pulaski High, but then we moved to Missouri when my dad started as a defensive assistant for the Rams. I enrolled at Clayton High and played quarterback, receiver, safety, and kicked and punted. We won state my senior year. The moves did affect me; it just meant I had to catch on to the offenses quicker and get to know new guys.

I liked baseball and had a tryout for the Cardinals' minor league team in Memphis at the end of my junior year. I liked playing all three sports, but I knew I loved football most. There were things in baseball and basketball that could help me on the football field, but I never considered pursuing anything but football.

My dad had been there and done that; we had watched him play pro ball as kids. So there was never really any pressure on us. We just went out and played. You see the letters from colleges start coming in and then you're like, Yeah okay, I can do this. I can't really remember the first school that offered me; I committed to Oregon late, after the season was already over. It was stressful, not knowing where you were going to be for the next four years. But it was an exciting time too, because you knew you were about to be one step closer to your dream of playing in the NFL.

More rising stars retrace their paths to the pros:

Maya Gabeira | Paul Goldschmidt | Brandon Jennings | Cam Newton | Jozy Altidore | Ashton Eaton | Maya Moore | Michael Crabtree | Ian Kinsler | C.J. Wilson | Nnamdi Asomugha | Bernard Pollard | Richard Seymour | Michelle Wie | Brittany Lincicome | Gordon Hayward | DeMarcus Cousins | Matt Flynn | Jairus Byrd | Rey Maualuga | Domata Peko | Le'Ron McClain | Glen Perkins | Jeff Halpern | Jay Feely

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