RALEIGH — For his sixth season, and after three major knee injuries, Jarvis Byrd will switch to No. 9 for N.C. State’s football team next season for a good reason.
“You know how they say a cat has nine lives?” asked Byrd, who wore No. 14 last season.
“I’ve had ACL injury after ACL injury; I feel like no matter what you do, you can’t knock me down.”
The NCAA recently granted Byrd, who missed all of the 2010 and ’11 seasons with previous anterior cruciate ligament injuries, a sixth season. The cornerback-turned-safety hopes to be healthy and ready for training camp in August.
For now, he’s just happy to still be around the Wolfpack for spring practice. Byrd, 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, thought his career was over after he tore the ligaments in his left knee in N.C. State’s 28-13 loss at Wake Forest on Oct. 5.
Wake receiver Orville Reynolds blocked Byrd below the waist, from behind, on a reverse in the second quarter.
“I had no idea he was coming,” Byrd said. “He just came from the blind side and took me out.”
There was a penalty on the play but not for Reynolds’ illegal hit. The damage to the Wolfpack’s defense was more severe than a 15-yard infraction. Without Byrd, who started the first five games and was one of the Pack’s best tacklers, coach Dave Doeren had to turn to walk-ons and other reserves to fill Byrd’s free safety spot.
The Wolfpack, which didn’t win another game after Byrd’s injury, also missed Byrd’s leadership, Doeren said.
“Jarvis is such a positive person and has such a great outlook on life,” Doeren said. “Whether he’s playing or not, just having him in the locker room is a positive thing.”
Doeren wouldn’t speculate on the timetable for Byrd’s return, but Byrd is confident he will be able to rehab from his third knee surgery. Byrd tore the ACL in his right knee during the last game of the 2009 season. After missing the 2010 season, he tore the ACL in his left knee in a summer workout.
He missed all of the 2011 season and then returned in 2012 but missed the final five games after tearing the quadriceps muscle in his right leg during a 43-35 loss at North Carolina. In four and half games last season, the Pahokee, Fla., native had 18 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Byrd had the third knee surgery in October and at the time didn’t think he would even apply for a medical hardship and sixth season from the NCAA. He thought his career was over, and went back home to south Florida during the winter break.
Byrd started to have second thoughts when his family and friends would ask about his future. The NCAA doesn’t typically grant a sixth season, especially after he played in five games in 2013, but he wanted to try.
“I couldn’t sleep at night or anything,” Byrd said. “I just couldn’t let it go like that.”
Byrd called Doeren and Phil Hedrick, the team’s head trainer. He wanted to put his rehab back on the fast track.
“I didn’t want to feel like I was rehabbing for nothing,” Byrd said.
N.C. State submitted his waiver request in February and got the approval from the NCAA on March 14. Byrd said he has ramped up his rehab process and hopes to be able start running next month.
He said this knee injury was the worst of the three but he believes he’ll be able to help the Wolfpack’s defense next season.
“I should be back by fall camp,” Byrd said. “I know the process. I won’t trick myself, if I know I won’t be able to come back, I won’t come back.”
By his own count, Byrd’s not done yet. He still has six lives to go.