Oct. 31, 2008
By Phil Landry
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Bryan Walwyn and Evan Byrd have been staples of the Crusaders' defense during their time at Holy Cross. With similar backgrounds, styles and intense attitudes, these seniors have provided their team with a quiet leadership that has led to big results on the field.
Both players found early success in coach Gilmore's defensive schemes. Walwyn cites the experience he gained playing high school football in Texas as the reason he was able to play in every game for his first three seasons on the team. "The physical part of the game was not that big of a transition, but the speed of the game was faster," said Walwyn. "I think the competition I played against in high school really prepared me well for the college game." The Houston native recorded 123 tackles, 17 sacks, 37 tackles for loss and 10 forced fumbles during his high school career.
Byrd also found great success in his career at Downington East High School in Pennsylvania. As an offensive standout, Byrd led his league in receptions as a fullback and tight end, with 37 as a junior and 34 as a senior. When Byrd came to Holy Cross, he was moved from defensive lineman to linebacker. "I had never played linebacker in my life before coming to Holy Cross," said Byrd. "I needed to learn linebacker reads and linebacker instincts. There were a lot of fundamental parts of the game that I needed to re-learn." Byrd played in every Holy Cross game as a sophomore and junior.
Walwyn and Byrd's fathers were both role models for their sons. Walwyn's father, a native of the Virgin Islands, was a track and field athlete. "He taught me all about hard work. Being undersized, it is important to learn the value of hard work," said Walwyn.
"My Dad has always pushed me in terms of lifting and staying on a good diet," said Byrd. "He also has helped me take notes on professional players." Byrd's father has introduced the senior to various trainers and ex-coaches involved with the game to receive football advice.
Both defensive stars understand what they need to develop on in order to improve their defense. "The past couple of years we have been known for giving up a lot of rushing yards and we have started to cut that out," continued Walwyn. "We are becoming the number one defense that we know we can be. It is frustrating when you are not achieving what you think you can achieve."
Byrd agrees with Walwyn's outlook. "Stopping the run is one of our biggest goals as a defense this season. The past few years we have been a weak run-stopping team," he said. "As of now, our goals are to keep yardage down and eliminate our mental errors. We tend to over-think and sometimes be in the wrong spots so our mental game is something we have been focusing on."
While both players are not the vocal types, they lead through their play on the field. "Evan and I like to perform more than speak," said Walwyn. Byrd continued, "We like to say that we are the calm before the storm. Both of our personalities are about getting the job done and not making any noise about it."
Nagged by injuries, both players feel they are back to the point where they need to be to impact the game on the defensive side of the ball. "I have only recently felt completely healthy," said Walwyn. "Hopefully I can get back to being the player I think I can be and make some good things happen for the team."
"We have had a lot of injured guys, and with that a lot of players, including freshmen, have stepped up. It is a good thing to see that we have that sort of depth and commitment to the team," said Byrd. "We are a lot more comfortable with each other now, and we know where our mindset needs to be."
The pair realizes the talent in each other and both have a desire to play hard for one another as well as their Crusader teammates. "I could see Evan had a lot of talent since freshman year," said Walwyn. "He is a great complement to have next to you because you know that someone has to worry about him and block him. He is a great teammate who drives you. When I am out on the field I do not want to let him down -- we play for each other."
Byrd also loves being on the same side of the ball as Walwyn. "He is an amazing pass rusher with strength and really quick feet. You would not expect it with his size, but he has this mobility that is really hard to stop," continued Byrd. "A lot of the time we are on the same side of the ball running stunts together. He has always understood that he can get to the ball and make plays. We have evolved in a way that we can both get the job done."
Byrd finds promise for the rest of the Crusaders' season as they battle in the Patriot League. "I am excited with where we are at this point in the season. We just want to get everyone healthy and in the right mindset."
According to Walwyn, the season has been a valuable lesson up to this point. "It has been a season for building character and we have played some pretty good teams. I believe it's going to help us learn how to deal with adversity."
Both players understand the team's goal of winning a Patriot League championship and are willing to do whatever it takes to get their team where it needs to be. Neither wants to look back on past seasons, as they are focusing on this year's potential. "As a team our goal is to win a Patriot League championship," said Walwyn. "It is time to close the book on the past two seasons and finally get one for ourselves."
This story originally appeared in the November 1 edition of the Holy Cross Gameday program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Bucknell. To order a copy of the program, click here.