Ex-Pack star in hospital

Hall of Famer Dennis Byrd has heart problem

Staff WriterJuly 17, 2010 

Dennis Byrd, one of the most decorated football players in N.C. State history, is hospitalized with a heart problem, a school official confirmed Friday evening.

N.C. State executive senior associate athletic director David Horning said he doesn't know many details but said Byrd is in a Charlotte hospital and being closely monitored.

"The prayers of the Wolfpack nation are out there with him, and we love Dennis Byrd," Horning said. "We love Dennis Byrd. He is larger than life, and he is one of the best defensive linemen who ever played for N.C. State."

In May, Byrd became the fifth former N.C. State player selected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He will be inducted on Dec. 7 at the National Football Foundation's annual awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

Byrd, who played for N.C. State from 1964 to 1967, was the first three-time All-ACC selection in football. He was a first-team All-American twice and the first N.C. State player to receive consensus All-America honors.

He was a member of the famed "White Shoes" defense and helped the Wolfpack gain a share of the 1965 ACC title and its first postseason win, over Georgia in the 1967 Liberty Bowl.

After being drafted No. 6 overall in 1968, Byrd played two seasons with the Boston Patriots before a knee injury forced him to retire. He later enjoyed a 30-year career as a high school teacher and coach before retiring in 2001.

Pack punter gets boot: Chris Ward, who at one time had been projected to start at punter for N.C. State in 2010, is not on the team's roster for the fall, school sports information director Annabelle Myers said Friday.

Coach Tom O'Brien suspended Ward indefinitely in March for unspecified reasons, saying at the time that Ward was still in class and might be able to return to the team. That's no longer the case.

"He will not be back," Myers said.

Jeff Ruiz, the 2009 starting punter who had decided to leave school to be closer to home, has returned to the team and is expected to start in 2010. Ruiz, who will be a senior, averaged 37.9 yards per punt last season.

Ward, who is from Fayetteville, Ga., redshirted last season as a freshman. He gained notoriety as a high school athlete when he won the best punter award with an average punt of 42.7 yards and a hang time of 4.17 seconds at the prestigious Southern Kicking Invitational.

Losing Ward, who had the potential to be a four-year starter, leaves N.C. State without a scholarship punter after Ruiz exhausts his eligibility this fall. But the Wolfpack punter of the future now appears to be Wil Baumann of Hoggard High in Wilmington, who committed to N.C. State earlier this week.

Baumann averaged 44 yards as a junior last season and comes from a high school program that has churned out talented specialists such as current North Carolina kicker Casey Barth and former Tar Heel Connor Barth, who kicks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Hoggard coach Scott Braswell said Baumann, who's 6 feet 5 and 180 pounds, has a similar build to Connor Barth's and a lot of potential.

"I think he could be an NFL guy some day," Braswell said.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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