NC State's 2014 Hall of Fame Class: Dennis Byrd
Aug. 27, 2014
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RALEIGH, N.C. - It’s quite fitting that the late Dennis Byrd has followed his legendary football coach Earle Edwards with his induction into the 2014 NC State Athletic Hall of Fame. Edwards was enshrined last season.
Byrd, a 6-5, 260-lb. defensive tackle, helped propel the Wolfpack to national prominence by his senior year in 1967 as a member of the famed “White Shoes” defense. In the process he became the first Atlantic Coast Conference player to earn all-conference honors during his entire varsity career, as he was named to the all-conference squad from 1965-67 when freshmen were ineligible.
The only Wolfpack defender to have his jersey retired (Number 77), Byrd was the Wolfpack’s first consensus All-America selection after earning accolades from the Associated Press, UPI, The Sporting News, NEA, Football Writers, Football Coaches, Central Press, Time Magazine, Playboy and the Walter Camp Foundation in 1967.
Also an All-America selection in 1966, the Marion, N.C., native helped lead the Pack to a share of the 1965 ACC title and league runner-up finishes in 1966 and 1967, including a Liberty Bowl victory during his senior campaign.
Known for plugging up the middle against teams running the pigskin, Byrd could also run down quarterbacks for sacks. Edwards called upon Byrd to start when he first became eligible as a sophomore.
One of his most memorable contests occurred that season when the State defense shut out Florida State, 3-0, in the final game at Riddick Stadium – the home of the football Wolfpack for 60 years.
“By the end of the game, everybody was calling him Mr. Byrd,” recalled University of Florida Gator quarterback Bill Carr after a contest in 1966.
By the 1967 season, the unranked Wolfpack made a surprise run at a national championship – winning its first eight games of the campaign. During those contests, Byrd and company yielded single digits in seven tilts and only 10 points in a 20-10 victory over Florida State.
During that stretch, Byrd was superb in a brilliant defensive effort against third-ranked Houston – a 16-6 triumph which catapulted the unbeaten Pack to a No. 3 national ranking – the highest in NC State history.
In an ACC game against rival Duke, Byrd injured his knee when he suffered a hit after the whistle. That injury was significant in State’s quest against perennial power Penn State. He participated in only one play and the Wolfpack lost to the Nittany Lions, 13-8, after the offense was stopped on the one-foot line with 40 seconds left to play.
Following his senior season, Byrd was selected to play in four post-season bowl games: East-West Shrine Game (San Francisco), Senior Bowl (Mobile, Alabama), Coaches All-America Bowl and the College All-Star Game (Chicago).
Byrd followed State All-America quarterback Roman Gabriel as the school’s second first-round selection in the NFL draft – a number -six pick by the Boston Patriots in 1968. He started for the Patroits in 1968 but the knee injury took its toll and he lasted only two seasons.
The humble Byrd, who became a career coach and teacher in North Carolina public schools after his brief pro stint, was selected to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Byrd was born in Pleasant Gardens, N.C., on Aug. 31, 1946. When he was five years old, his family moved to Lincolnton to work in the textile industry.
He played under coach Von Ray Harris at Lincolnton High School along with future Pack teammate Steve Warren, who recently served on the NC State Board of Trustees. They both followed Harris’ son Ronnie, who enrolled at State in 1964.
The All-America defensive tackle was a long-time assistant coach at Northeastern High School near Elizabeth City after a head-coaching stint at West Lincoln High School. He retired in 2004.
Byrd died of a heart attack on July 15, 2010 while undergoing unrelated back surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. He was survived by his wife Kim and four children.
By George Cox, GoPack.com