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 BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -Bad decisions in high school cost speedy and talented receiver Demetrius Byrd a chance to go straight to an elite college football program.
After seeing limited playing time through his first four games at LSU, the junior college transfer began wondering if he had miscalculated again.
Former LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who left Baton Rouge last winter to take the same job at Florida State, tried last winter to persuade Byrd to play instead for the Seminoles.
LSU was so deep with young talent at wide receiver that Byrd stood little hope of playing for the Tigers any time soon, Fisher told him.
``Jimbo was telling me, 'They're not going to play you over there, man,''' Byrd recalled after practice this week. ``When I first got here, it looked like Jimbo was telling the truth. Now I realize the reason why I wasn't playing was because the coaches thought I wasn't ready. And to tell you the truth, I wasn't. I was still making a lot of mistakes.''
Those days are over. Byrd has been among the Tigers' best receivers during the last half of the season. His last-second, sliding catch in the back of the end zone to beat Auburn a few weeks ago was only one of a number of highlight-reel touchdown catches he's hauled in while playing a central role in keeping LSU in contention for a Southeastern Conference title.
He caught a fourth-down touchdown pass in a close victory over Florida. He had a 61-yard score to help LSU overcome a 10-point, second half deficit at Alabama. He also had a pair of big touchdown catches in a 50-48 overtime loss to Arkansas last Friday.
Going into Saturday's SEC title game in Atlanta against Tennessee, Byrd leads LSU receivers in touchdowns with six. His 521 yards are second only to senior Early Doucet.
``At first, just like every other guy who comes in new to a program, trying to learn the plays, it was difficult for him,'' running back Jacob Hester recalled. ``But he was such a playmaker it didn't matter. It was hard to keep him out of the game.''
When the season began, Byrd found himself playing behind Doucet, Brandon LaFell, Jared Mitchell and Terrance Tolliver. When Doucet missed a few early season games with a hamstring injury, Byrd got into the game on four-receiver sets. Doucet's injury also meant Byrd was getting more practice time with first-team quarterback Matt Flynn.
``Practicing with Matt helped,'' Byrd said. ``We got our timing down he started knowing where I'm going to be at, knowing he could trust me. Now it's like, when he wants a big third-down play and Early's not open, he'll look for me.''
Byrd played only one year at Miami Central High School. Bad grades kept him off the field most of the time, and Byrd laments now that he didn't take school more seriously at a younger age.
He learned his lesson when none of the major college programs he hoped to play for offered him a scholarship.
He was devastated.
At Miami Central, there is a hallway where the names of former graduates who had made it to the NFL are written on a wall. Byrd used to glanced at the names of Willis McGahee, Najeh Davenport and others every day, and say to himself, ``Man, I want my name on that wall.''
Byrd did not want to go to junior college, but felt better about that option after meeting Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson at church one day. Johnson, who also went to a junior college, told Byrd that might be his best chance.
Byrd enrolled at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, where he caught 45 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore.
Because he needed to take summer classes before coming to LSU, he missed summer workouts and didn't arrive on campus until the day before players were due to report fall practice.
With his 4.3 speed at 40 yards and his sure hands in the clutch, he's exceeded expectations.
``He's been really a good surprise,'' Hester said. ``When Early went down, he's what really helped this receiving corps and led this receiving corps. If we didn't have him, who knows where our season would be right now.''
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