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GSU's Byrd shines
There are surprises, and then there are surprises. Its no surprise Georgia Southern is in the FCS playoff field for the third straight year. Dorian Byrd being named to the Southern Conference All-Conference team. That was a surprise. To Byrd that is. Not to his coach. Despite an injury riddled season which saw him miss the last two regular season games the former Westside player was voted to the all-conference first team by the coaches. Byrd was a second-team pick last year as a sophomore. Yes, I was a little surprised, Byrd said following practice earlier this week. I hadnt been playing that much. Its a nice honor, but Im looking past that to Central Arkansas. Byrd and the seventh-ranked Eagles (8-3) will be making their third straight playoff appearance at 2 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium against No. 8 University of Central Arkansas (9-2). Hes played well when hes been in there, Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Brent Davis, who also coaches the offensive line, said. Hes definitely an all-conference player. He hasnt played as much this year as he did his first two years because he hurt his foot, Davis said. Hes battled through it, and hes played hurt most of the year. It (the foot) would get better and then he would hurt it again, and wed be back to square one. Byrd, who said he will be ready to play against the Bears, started every game as a freshman, and started nine of 12 games last year, missing the Alabama and Old Dominion games. His injuries this season have included a turf toe and a mid-foot sprain, both of which are extremely painful and require a long time to heal. Complicating the healing process was the fact the injuries involved each foot. One of the problems is hes got really small feet (size 10 ) for a guy his size, Davis said. He weighs 270 pounds and thats a lot of pressure and weight on your feet. Davis describes Byrd as the prototype Georgia Southern lineman. Hes extremely athletic, and is fast off the ball, Davis said. He has good balance, runs well and is good at blocking people in space because he has such good body control. He has good football savvy and can make adjustments during the game, Davis said. Hes a good blueprint for the type of lineman we want to recruit. Thats why hes played since he arrived on campus. Its easy to gauge a players performance level at one of the skill positions. Statistics will give an indication of how effective a quarterback, running back or linebacker is performing. With offensive linemen its a different story. They generally labor in anonymity, and usually the only time their name is called over the public address system is for a penalty called on them. At Georgia Southern the measure of the offensive line is the running game, and thats an area in which the Eagles have excelled this year. The Eagles lead FCS in rushing at 392.2 yards per game, and are 14th in scoring at 35.5 points per game which also leads the SoCon. Georgia Southern is the only team in the conference with two backs averaging more than 100 yards per game. Quarterback Jerick McKinnon averages 105.6, and B back Dominique Swope is close behind at 102.1. Despite having one of the most overpowering offenses in the SoCon and FCS a few eyebrows were raised when the all-conference team was announced. Byrd was the only Georgia Southern player named to the first team, and none were on the second team. Wofford had five players on the first two teams, and Appalachian State had four. Furman (3-8, 2-6) had three first team picks on offense. While that is good debate fodder for the fans Byrd said he and his teammates are focused only on the present. I think weve had a good year, Byrd said. We lost some tough gamesThe Citadel and Appalachian State games were tough ones. Im just glad weve come this far, Byrd said. We can start making a difference this Saturday. Were playing for a national championship. It will not be easy, Byrd said, against the Southland Conference champions Bears. Theyre a tough bunch, Byrd said. Theyve got tall defensive ends, theyre physical inside, and theyve got physical linebackers. Offensively we have to start early. We cant afford a slow start.