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Male prep athlete of 2017-18: Manzano’s Byrd dazzled on gridiron, track

By all rights, he should have been a Knight.

He found his royal calling at Manzano instead.

In person, Jordan Byrd in Monarchs purple was a graceful vision, always about the short, quick burst. A patch of fake grass in pads here, a blazing run to a state record in spikes there.

The speed was often breathtaking to behold. And his legacy will surely have a lengthy shelf life in this city.

Byrd crosses the finish line after winning the boys Class 6A 100 meters on May 12 for the fourth consecutive year. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Today, Manzano’s soft-spoken superstar earns another honor: The Journal has selected him as its male prep Athlete of the Year for 2017-18.

“He’s a role model for everyone,” said football and track teammate Andrew Erickson, who is going to be a walk-on football player at the University of New Mexico. “It’s incredible how he’s an amazing athlete, so famous in New Mexico, and so humble. It blows me away. He’s never loud or braggy at all.”

He certainly could have been.

“Of all the people that could do that, it was him,” said Byrd’s football coach at Manzano, Chad Adcox. “But he never, ever did that. His humbleness is something I’ll never forget. He was never about himself.”

Byrd’s sensational career at Manzano – he lived in Del Norte’s district, but made an open enrollment choice to attend Manzano – was consistently marked by his powerful (and usually uncatchable) two legs. He was the most electrifying athlete of the year and a bona fide rock star on his campus.

And for ample reason. The entirety of his senior year could scarcely have borne more fruit. Byrd quarterbacked Manzano to a 13-0 season and the school’s first football championship last December.

At the state track meet two weeks ago, Byrd collected four gold medals. He completed a four-year career sweep of the 100-meter dash, tying a 21-year-old state record (albeit controversially) in the process.

“An honor,” Byrd said. (For his more provocative take on this, see his comment in the information box that accompanies this story.) “A lot of people don’t have that chance.”

Byrd also won the open 200, plus anchored the 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams to victories. He ran a smashing final leg of the 4×200 – a race he admitted to once hating – to make up a huge deficit; it was perhaps the most underrated great thing he ever did at Manzano.

He won seven individual golds and another three relay golds on the UNM track during his prep career. Not to mention his rather snazzy football championship ring.

But his origins at Manzano were less than glamorous. It was barely a start at all.

“My freshman year,” he said, “I wasn’t into what I was doing. I was just how I was. I was more relaxed and lazy. I wasn’t into sports back then. I didn’t like to work.”

He was, his father Lamont said, impatient. Jordan envisioned having an impact at the varsity level as a freshman. And when he realized he wouldn’t, his father said, “he wanted to quit.” Lamont had to ease him into the mindset that his time would eventually come, and that someday the stage would be his.

“I guess he thought he was so good that he didn’t need to do anything extra,” said Lamont Byrd, who was a state champion prep hurdler in Georgia.

By the final play of his football career, at the end of the Monarchs’ 14-7 championship-game victory over La Cueva at Wilson Stadium, it was fair to ask if Manzano would have hoisted a blue trophy without Byrd.

“No, I don’t think we do,” Adcox said. “There were some plays that kid made that only that kid could make. He was so dynamic, you just had to plan for him.”

Later this year, the compact 5-foot-9, 165-pound Byrd will join former Lobos football coach Rocky Long at San Diego State, where the Aztecs, he said, will utilize him as a running back primarily, but also as a slot receiver and kick returner.

Byrd said he really didn’t feel like he’d truly understood what was required for him to get to the next level until he received his first college scholarship offer from UNM. The Lobos, he said, spoke to him of needing to add weight and bulk, and to grow up a bit.

“Back then,” he said, “I was playing around and having fun.”

Byrd’s chiseled physique belies some of the struggles he had early in his career at Manzano.

That includes this statement from Byrd, which is almost impossible to believe:

“I couldn’t do a pull-up,” he said, smiling. “Now I can do, like, 25.”

The process, his father said, was far from complicated. His son matured – as an athlete, as a person. He learned what most great athletes know; that is the importance of being a self-starter.

“By his senior year,” Lamont Byrd said, “we didn’t have to tell him anything.”

He lit up the UNM track his entire career, starting with that startling debut in the 100-meter final as a freshman at the state meet in 2015. He had three 200-meter titles; he was a close runner-up to Volcano Vista’s Alejandro Goldston his sophomore year, a season in which he had surgery on his left knee just weeks before the state meet and wasn’t even certain he’d be able to run.

Byrd would like to continue to sprint in college, even though San Diego State does not have a men’s track program. He’s skeptical that it will work out.

He does plan to run in the Elite 100-meter final at this week’s Great Southwest meet here in Albuquerque, and then it’ll be time to get ready for life in San Diego.

“It’s on me now,” Byrd said. “I have to look out for myself and make sure I have my big-boy pants on.”

ABOUT JORDAN BYRD

Age: 18

School: Manzano

Birthplace: Albuquerque

Parents: Lamont Byrd, Nicole Bedford

Siblings: Jade, 26; Brittany, 24

Next: Byrd, a 10-time state track champion and Manzano’s starting QB from its championship football team, is headed to San Diego State. He will play football but hopes to also dabble in track — if the Aztecs and former Lobo coach Rocky Long will grant their permission. Byrd at least should have some comfort zones as it relates to New Mexico. Former La Cueva standout Zach Arnett is SDSU’s defensive coordinator and former Rio Grande star (and two-time Olympian) Shelia Burrell is San Diego State’s head women’s track coach and could coach Byrd as a sprinter.

Why not Del Norte? The Journal has told the story before, but it bears repeating: he went to Manzano instead of Del Norte because he traveled to Las Vegas for a Thanksgiving tournament with Manzano’s YAFL Seniors and decided he wanted to continue on with them in high school.

Record breaker: There was mass confusion at the state meet when the board at UNM signaled a 10.4 time for Byrd’s 100-meter final. Officially, his time was 10.5, tying a 1997 record. The NMAA said it was a glitch, that the board was not synced with the official time. Asked about this, Byrd responded thusly: “I still ran a 10.4. That’s what I’m gonna go off of.”

What a gem: Byrd wants to study science and business at San Diego State, and he has a keen interest in gemology. He said he’d like to open his own jewelry store some day.

Did you know? Byrd was a pretty solid tennis player at Cleveland Middle School.

 

Manzano High School’s Jordan Byrd poses with Cleveland High School’s Amanda Mayoral, the Journal’s choice as female prep athlete of the year in the metro area. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

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