Throwback Thursday: Isaac Byrd
Sept. 22, 2011
Isaac Byrd (Football/Baseball, 1994-96)
St. Louis native Isaac Byrd made a name for himself at KU not just at Memorial Stadium but at Hoglund Ballpark as well, as he was a two-sport student athlete from 1994-96. The wide receiver/outfielder was drafted by two professional sports leagues and played in the minor leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals organization and in the NFL for six seasons for the Tennessee Oilers/Titans and Carolina Panthers. Byrd currently lives in Orlando, Fla., where he runs “Elite Mental Training”, which he recently wrote a book for. He is also in his first season working on 590-AM as a St. Louis Rams talk show host during football Sunday’s.
What have you been doing since you left KU?
“I am a published author and my book just came out, which is called; `How to: Think Like a Pro, Act Like a Pro & Play Like a Pro.’ It’s about the psychological side of sports as well as the mental aspects of sports. It goes over eight different principles that athletes must go through mentally to compete at that elite, optimal performance level. A lot of athletes get all the physical training that they can possibly handle, but no one is teaching them how to prepare themselves mentally and how to maximize their full athletic ability. The physical and mental aspects of the sport must come together and work together as one. My book goes into great detail about how I was able to direct my brother and other professional athletes to succeed in competition through mental preparation. The book is for all sports and all types of athletes, whether they are amateur, male or female. The book is actually out right now and it’s doing great. In addition I am speaking at different high schools about the eight principles that are in the book.
Besides the book, I do a lot of training, whether it’s one-on-one or team training, when it comes to the mental aspects of sports. I also do a lot of summer camps in St. Louis and I host a (St. Louis) Rams sports talk radio show on Sundays before their games. So far that is going great and it is just my first year doing it.”
Where did you get the idea for the book?
“When I retired I did a lot of speaking at different camps. I was hired by Offense/Defense Camp, Nike and Under Armour to go out to these football camps and speak about my background and how I succeeded. I would open it up for questions at the end and I would always get the same type of questions, `How were you able to be drafted three different times and play on two different playing levels?’, or `How were you able to maximize your full athletic ability?’ I would always talk about the mental aspects of the game and when I did that I found out that people looked very interested in it, so I just felt at the time, the best way to get my knowledge, experience and expertise of the mental aspects of the game out there was to put it in book form.”
What advice would you give collegiate two-sport athletes on the mental side of the game?
“It can really be any sport, but I think the most important thing is to make sure you have your schedule set and to make sure you follow that schedule when it comes to classes, studying and your practice time. All those things are basically going to be set by the administration and coaches, but you also need time to mentally prepare in the mornings, afternoons, between classes and at night. So, my biggest advice would be, you are getting all the help academically possible and you are getting all the practice time and training you can handle, that’s why you need to get a system, mentally, to help prepare you to dominate on the field.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced when playing two sports at Kansas?
“The toughest challenge was not being physically burnt out because when I played football the season would end and I would jump right into starting practice for baseball. I never really had that down time that most athletes have when they are just playing football or one sport. Once football ended, shortly thereafter I would jump right into baseball and start training, running, swinging a bat, fielding and taking ground balls. Physically keeping my body at the top performance level and trying to figure out the best way not to burn out was the biggest challenge. That is why eating well and taking care of my body was very important for me.”
You were a pick in both the Major League Baseball and NFL drafts, what made you decide to pursue a football career?
“That is a great question because baseball was my favorite sport and it still is my favorite sport today. I played baseball years before I started playing football because I was always too small and my mom wouldn’t let me play football even in high school.
When I was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals out of KU following my junior year, I went down to the minor leagues and I loved it. It was my hometown team and I wanted to play for the Cardinals. I grew up wanting to play for them, so really it was a dream come true, but I came back for my senior year to continue playing football. When I was drafted I had to make a decision because I was not Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders by any means. At that time, I felt like playing in the NFL, because it was also one of my childhood dreams. In football, I was able to play right away, whereas in baseball I was there once I was drafted but I had to work my way through the minor league system and then hopefully one day get the opportunity to play in the Majors. That was a big turning point for me because in the NFL, I am there and I can start my career right away and try to make a name for myself. When looking back at it in that aspect I chose the NFL because I was able to play at the highest level immediately.”
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make, going from college to the NFL?
“There are two major differences and one of them has to do with the speed of the game. When I watch the NFL on TV it is in slow motion. Once you are out there on the field everything happens so much quicker. The routes have to be run quicker. You have to get to where you are supposed to be on the field quicker. The quarterback throws the ball earlier. Everything happens so much quicker than college. The second thing is that the competition is unreal. In college, during practice if you were a starter you would go against the back-up defense and you pretty much had your way. In the NFL it is not like that. You were going up against the best in the world every single day, even in practice. These are guys that were all-Americans in college and the best players on their team. There is no relax time at practice in the NFL because it is a complete competition. In college it wasn’t that way from the aspect that you could lose your job. In the NFL, when you practiced from Wednesday through Friday, your job was on the line. Guys are trying to beat you to play on Sunday, so you have to compete at a high level all the time in the NFL.”
What was it like playing in Super Bowl XXXIV against your hometown team, St. Louis Rams?
“It was really a dream come true because I always dreamt of playing in the Super Bowl as a kid. I always imagined myself running out of the tunnel, hearing my name called and knowing that the world was watching because it’s one of the most-watched sporting events in the entire world. It was just such an unbelievable feeling.
When the game started, it was just a game, but leading up to the game with all the press conferences, all the media, all the attention you get and then actually standing in the tunnel waiting for your name to get called was the best part of that Super Bowl for me because it allowed me to think about all the things I went through to get to that singular point of playing in the Super Bowl. Then it was against my hometown team, the St. Louis Rams, and I had like 20 family members at the game. They were all hoping I would do well, but of course cheering for the Rams. After the game, everyone congratulated me for playing okay, but they were definitely happy for the Rams. I actually started the game, but I am just happy to have been a part of it because I will never forget it.”
Do you keep in touch with former KU teammates?
“Absolutely, I talk to Eric Vann all the time. Eric Vann played running back for KU for a long time and I get in touch with him probably once a month on the phone. We text each other once every two weeks I would say. When I was in Carolina with the Panthers, he lived in the area and he would come up to all the games. He is a really good friend of mine.”
How often do you get to make it back to Lawrence?
“I have not made it back to Lawrence for a while, but I am planning on coming back this year because I really want to go to the Baylor game in November. I think that is going to be a great game. That match-up will feature two great offenses and Baylor’s quarterback is flat-out awesome. With that said, our offense can score with anybody in the country. We can throw it around and have a very good running game.”
What did you enjoy the most about being a student-athlete at KU?
“I can think of a couple things but I would say number one, is just being around the guys. There is nothing quite like being around a group of guys that you practice with, play with and spend time with off the field. Once that aspect is over, you can never quite find it again. It is one of the things that athletes these days do not really understand, that once your career is over, finding a group of 75 players, to have fun with is hard to replace. I really miss that kind of camaraderie and being in the locker room talking to the guys. The athletes today should really take full advantage of this opportunity they have in college.”
What is your favorite memory while at KU?
“Winning the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii (in 1995). We played against UCLA and there are a couple things I remember. For one, Coach Glen Mason said he was going to the University of Georgia the next year, so it was a huge story that he was leaving KU to go to Georgia. We wanted to definitely try to win the game for Coach Mason. Then, two days before the game, he ended up changing his mind and said he was going to stay at KU, so we had to find another motivation. The second motivation was UCLA players saying they didn’t know Kansas had a football team. That really riled us up and when we heard that, I would say the game was won once we read those quotes. There was no way that team was going to beat us, because we had those quotes posted in our locker room. They didn’t have a chance because from the opening kickoff to the last play, we dominated that entire game. Those two things are what I really remember, Glen Mason changing his mind and UCLA disrespecting us. Of course I had a great game being in Hawaii, we had seven days there. It was pretty unbelievable, but that will be a discussion for another day.”
KU fans can find out more about Isaac Byrd and his best-selling book on his website: http://www.isaacbyrd.com.