Solomon Byrd had a unique journey becoming a USC playmaker

Long before his moment finally arrived, Solomon Byrd was tired of waiting.

He was frustrated with the recruitment process. He didn’t get the attention he expected. A few schools, like Fresno State and San Diego State, had expressed interest, but things never materialized. He figured other schools wouldn’t bother going to the desert, where Byrd played at Palmdale Knight High, no football power.

He took it personally. The summer before his senior season, Byrd came to USC for a Rising Stars camp and cooked when he compared himself to other high-profile contestants.

“I really wanted to go to the next level,” Byrd said. “Those guys who had stars and whatever, I played better than them. But not an offer for me.”

The offer Byrd wanted would come years later and take him to USC, where he has emerged in his last two games as the breakout pass rusher the USC defense so desperately needed. After opening the season third on the depth chart — and playing just five snaps in his Trojan debut — Byrd now sits second in the Pac-12 with three sacks.

With Romello Height still suffering from a shoulder injury, more opportunities await. USC coach Lincoln Riley recently upheld Byrd as “an example of what we’re trying to build.” Alex Grinch, the Trojans’ defensive coordinator, called him “the poster child” for USC’s defensive mindset.

He wasn’t always in that headspace. After receiving few college offers, Byrd ended up at the University of Wyoming at Laramie.

“I was pretty immature at the time,” Byrd said.

Still, AJ Cooper saw potential. As a defensive line coach in Wyoming, Cooper helps set Byrd on a different path.

“He was really hard on me,” Byrd recalls.

Wyoming defensive end Solomon Byrd fails to quite reach Boise State quarterback Chase Cord on November 9, 2019.

Wyoming defensive end Solomon Byrd fails to quite reach Boise State quarterback Chase Cord on November 9, 2019.

(Steve Conner/Associated Press)

It was just what he needed. Cooper, who now works in Washington state, pushed Byrd in a way he had never been pushed before. He told Byrd to ignore anything beyond his control.

The message stuck.

“He kind of made me realize why I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” Byrd said. “I think that’s where it hit me to look inside and know that it’s not about anything else. I have to make sure I’m doing everything right before I get any opportunity.”

So Byrd set about finding his way around.

It did not last long. As a redshirt freshman, Byrd picked up 6½ sacks to become one of the top young pass rushers in the Mountain West Conference. Obstacles would obscure his options from there. First, it was COVID-19 that caused him to sit out 2020. Then a shoulder injury cut his 2021 season down to just eight games. He still managed 3½ sacks.

Byrd jokes that the Wyoming cold hardened his appearance and helped him grow up. But after three years in Laramie, he wondered if there might be more out there. So he entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal. USC got in touch within two weeks.

But that initial interest dried up. He was told Riley had yet to evaluate the list. Byrd assumed they were only teasing him.

“But they really did it [evaluate the roster]’ Byrd said. “A lot of people left in the spring.”

Byrd, already committed to Georgia Tech, moved to USC. He arrived in Los Angeles that summer slightly out of shape, which delayed his impact.

“He’s really had an impact on us. We can’t wait to find these playmakers.”

— USC Defense Coordinator Alex Grinch on Solomon Byrd

USC defenseman Solomon Byrd celebrates after recovering a fumble from Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener.

USC defenseman Solomon Byrd celebrates after recovering a fumble from Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

“It was hard not to lie,” Byrd said. “I’m from Wyoming and I was a rookie and a big name up there. When I came here there was a lot of talent.”

But this time Byrd knew how to make the best of it. He lowered his head and processed the frustration. He tried not to think too far into the future. He spoke to his wife Taysia about it. He turned to teammate Nick Figueroa, who told him to be patient because “your chance will come.”

Byrd didn’t wait long. In Week 2, he stormed into the Stanford backfield and got a pair of big sacks. The following week, he broke off the ledge early in the second half against Fresno State and slammed into quarterback Jake Haener, forcing a key fumble and knocking Haener out of the game.

“Coach Grinch is always talking about opportunities and making the most of them,” said linebacker Eric Gentry. “[Byrd] really does.”

Grinch added, “He really influenced us. We can’t wait to find these playmakers.”

After USC’s 45-17 win over Fresno State, Riley highlighted Byrd’s performance by giving him the cue ball, a significant keepsake for a player who had been overlooked for so long.

That is no longer the case with Byrd. However, he hasn’t spent much time worrying about it lately.

“I’m just going to work hard and let everything else come as it comes.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2022-09-22/solomon-byrds-overlooked-journey-has-finally-settled-at-usc Solomon Byrd had a unique journey becoming a USC playmaker

Emma Bowman

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