Starting to catch on

By Staff
Hartselle’s Byford seeing lots of playing time with rejuvenated Cornhuskers
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
When Nebraska starting senior center Kurt Mann contracted a mononucleosis virus early in the 2006 football season, it opened the door for a former Hartselle Tiger to take over.
Brett Byford, who graduated from Hartselle High in 2003, has started the last three games for Nebraska — a 56-7 win over Nicholls State, a 28-10 loss at USC and a 56-0 win over Troy. Listed on the spring depth chart as the backup center, Byford received extra practice time during the spring while Mann was out with an injury.
That extra preparation paid off for the Cornhuskers, who inserted the junior Byford into the starting line-up against Nicholls State after Mann — a senior leader who had started 24 straight games — was sidelined indefinitely after contracting the virus.
Since then, Byford has seen starts in three straight games and is expected to start this weekend’s Big XII home opener against Kansas.
Fans across the country got to see the former Tiger play on primetime Saturday television two weeks ago. When ABC showed a graphic of the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ offensive line-up against USC, there was one name that stood out — Center. Brett Byford: Hartselle, AL.
Byford’s journey from the Bible Belt to the Corn Belt is a unique one — he is the first Nebraska recruit to come from Alabama since Dwayne Harris of Bessemer signed with the Huskers in 1991. But Byford, who is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and points to his Christian faith as a source of strength, has never doubted his choice to come to Lincoln.
He said the Cornhuskers’ devoted fan base is loud and proud no matter where the game is being played. Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium has sold out an NCAA-record 278 consecutive times.
The Cornhuskers have been on tough times recently, but are starting to attract national attention once again. Nebraska is currently ranked No. 21 in the AP poll with a 3-1 record, and is expected to compete for the Big XII North title this year. Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan is entering his third season of installing a pro-style “West Coast” offense at Nebraska, and Byford believes the team’s offensive identity is finally starting to take shape.
Currently, the Cornhuskers are the No. 2-ranked team nationally in scoring, averaging 42.8 points per game, albeit against weaker competition. Even more impressive, the Cornhuskers’ rushing game has improved to 10th in the country with an average of 224.25 yards per game after finishing the 2005 season with the nation’s 107th-ranked ground game (96 yards rushing per game).
Last season, and through the first game of 2006, Byford practiced as a member of the second-string offense. But since the sidelining of Mann, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Byford has worked with the first string in practice. He said the differences between the two units at practice are barely noticeable.
At practice, Byford and the rest of the Nebraska first string battle against their own first-string defense, a unit that has earned the historical moniker of “the Blackshirts” for the black practice jerseys they wear. The Cornhusker defense has allowed just 11.3 points per game so far this season.
They are a particularly good challenge for Byford and the other Nebraska offensive linemen, as the Blackshirts led the nation with 50 sacks last season.
Byford’s next possible start against Kansas will be nationally televised on FSN South Saturday starting at 6 p.m. Central Standard Time.

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