On the third play from scrimmage in the 2013 Outback Bowl, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw dropped back at his own 44-yard line and looked downfield. Streaking down the left side on a post route was none other than the Gamecocks’ fastest player.
Damiere Byrd made the catch in stride over the hands of the Michigan defender at the 6-yard line, and his momentum carried him into the end zone for the first score of the game.
“That was a big play in that game, and I hope to continue to make those types of plays the entire season,” Byrd said.
That play in USC’s 33-28 win showed how the promise of the speedy 5-foot-9, 166 pound receiver could be put into action. The Sicklerville, N.J., native knows that is what USC’s coaches and fans hope to see more of in his junior season.
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With Ace Sanders gone to the NFL, Byrd hopes to get on the field more often. He’s currently battling for a full-time starting role.
“It’s an opportunity to establish myself with a bigger role in this offense, make bigger plays in bigger situations, and be more consistent,” he said.
Byrd, who also competes for the indoor track team in the sprint events, played in all 13 of USC’s games last season, starting two of them, and caught 14 passes for 366 yards — a 26.1-yard average — and three scores. He also was on the receiving end of a 94-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson against UAB, his first career scoring catch and the fourth-longest pass play in school history.
But Byrd, who says he has run a 4.26 in the 40-yard dash on the gridiron, wants to be known for more than his ability to stretch the field.
“Obviously, I have speed so that’s the first thing that’s going to stand out to anybody,” Byrd said. “Even though I’ve always been the down-the-field guy, and that’s all people automatically assume is what I am. I feel like I am a complete receiver. I can run all the routes, I can catch and I can do what all the other receivers do. It’s time for me to actually show that.”
Byrd caught one pass in nine games as a freshman and had some issues with hanging onto the football, but he made strides in that area a year ago. He would love to develop into the kind of receiver that Sanders, who led the team with 45 receptions and nine touchdown catches a year ago, became during his three seasons.
“I have improved,” Byrd said. “Every offseason, I work harder and harder to catch balls each day.”
He’s taking the first step of following in Sanders’ path by inheriting the No. 1 worn by Sanders last season. Byrd wasn’t going to pass it up when offered.
“I wore this in high school previously, and when Ace left, I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “I was going to keep (No.) 3. Coach (Steve Spurrier) Junior and coach Mangus texted me and asked me if I wanted it and I said, ‘I’ll take it.’”
Spurrier Jr., the receivers coach, believes Byrd has the ability to put together a break-through campaign for a receiving corps that has no seniors.
“Damiere Byrd’s a capable player, and he needs to have a big year,” Spurrier Jr. said.
Byrd, a sport and entertainment management major who interned in the athletics marketing department over the summer, believes the depth and ability is there.
“Without having any seniors, our receiving corps is really deep,” Byrd said. “We have a lot of people who can play. We need to have those people step up and make big plays.”
With both Shaw and Thompson back to put the ball on the money, Byrd enters the season more confident than ever.
“All I have to do is get in the right spot knowing the ball will be there,” he said.
Just like in the Outback Bowl.