Brett Vito: Byrd earns his place in UNT history

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Brandin Byrd is a tad sneaky when it comes to his contributions on Saturdays for North Texas.

The senior running back pounds away, grinding out 4- and 5-yard runs at a time, rarely making mistakes and always doing the dirty work.

Look up when it’s all over, and Byrd is usually the secondary star while players like wide receiver Brelan Chancellor — his good friend and high school teammate — and middle linebacker Zach Orr garner the attention.

In a lot of ways, Byrd seems like the embodiment of a workmanlike team that put in another workmanlike effort Saturday in a 42-10 win at Tulsa.

UNT ground out 385 rushing yards, held the ball for just short of 35 minutes and improved to 8-4 without a whole lot of fanfare with its commanding win over the Golden Hurricane.

Only this time — in his final regular-season game — Byrd was the star. He rushed for 251 yards, carved out his place in UNT history and reminded Mean Green fans of what he has meant to the team in its turnaround season.

Successful teams need unsung heroes like Byrd, who will lead UNT in rushing yards for a second straight season after UNT plays in a bowl game sometime down the line. No one knows that better than UNT coach Dan McCarney.

“Brandin is consistent and tough,” McCarney said. “Everyone says he doesn’t have this or that and isn’t flashy. He’s productive and has as much character as anyone in this program.”

UNT has a senior class full of guys who contribute to an overall character that has been so important for the Mean Green. Orr has been a team captain for three years, Thompson a starter for three.

Those players cast a long shadow that Byrd has spent his career playing in.

Being the next guy in line after Lance Dunbar, who just had his breakout game with the Cowboys, another pro in Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas, a guy who put together one of the greatest individual seasons in UNT history, sends expectations for UNT running backs soaring.

Byrd had some big shoes to fill and has handled the pressure as well as anyone could expect.

He hasn’t been as flashy as some of the players of the past, or even Antoinne Jimmerson, whom he is sharing carries with this year.

The fact that Byrd is a team-first guy who never talks about himself hasn’t helped raise his profile.

Byrd had the game of his college career Saturday.

Getting him to talk about it was pretty much a hopeless cause, like it usually is. Byrd fielded a question about his performance and immediately started talking about his offensive line.

“The line opened holes for us — not just for me, but also for Antoinne,” Byrd said. “They opened things up for us.”

Byrd let his performance and his teammates do the talking for him. And there was a lot to talk about.

Byrd needed just 26 carries to roll up his 251 yards, scored three touchdowns and broke off a 91-yard TD run. The 251 yards Byrd posted ranks sixth for a game in UNT history.

The only guys who have higher totals are UNT royalty — Dunbar and Thomas.

Thompson had the best view in the house after handing the ball to Byrd all day and put the performance in perspective.

“He made me the best handoff quarterback in Conference USA today,” Thompson said. “When you hand the ball to him, you know good things are going to happen. He is the most unselfish player I have ever been around. He does his job, gets back up and gets ready for the next play.”

That approach elevated Byrd into a place in UNT history that makes him hard to ignore now. Byrd’s big day pushed him into eighth place on UNT’s career rushing list with 2,150 yards and also gave him 1,023 yards on the season, making him just the 10th running back to post a 1,000-yard season in program history.

That’s significant however one looks at it, even if the accomplishment was lost in a landslide of other milestones that UNT reached.

UNT snapped a 10-game losing streak against Tulsa, won an eighth game for the first time since 2003 and saw Thompson move into second place on the program’s career passing list with 7,191 yards.

Byrd talked a lot about that eighth win and about bouncing back from a loss to Texas-San Antonio more than his big day.

“A win is a win,” Byrd said. “We are happy to have momentum going into bowl season.”

Just don’t overlook the senior running back’s role in helping create that momentum this year and his contributions over the long haul. He’s done more than enough to be recognized as a significant player in UNT history.

Byrd just served up a reminder with a milestone performance in one of his last appearances with the Mean Green.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and bvito@dentonrc.com.


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