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Jake Byrd is Concordia’s leading man.
In more ways than one.
He’s the quarterback of the football team, the student body president and literally was the leading man last winter while playing the role of charismatic dreamer Edward Bloom in the school musical Big Fish.
“What prompted me was Mr. (Chris) Murphy (Theatre Arts Director at Concordia) approached me at one of our leadership retreats and asked me if I wanted to audition for the musical,” Byrd explained. “I kinda laughed at first and then I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I’ve always been (exposed) to the fine arts, I play the French horn. And when I broke my thumb (playing football last fall) I couldn’t do anything anyway. I thought, ‘I should try out for the musical.’ And it was a success. For my first time, I think I did okay.”
Byrd was so good, he thought he heard some weeping moms in the capacity crowd.
Jake Byrd portrays Edward Bloom in the Concordia theatre production of 'Big Fish.' (photo J. Kurt Schmidt)
“At the end when (Bloom’s character dies), I heard a lot of sniffling,” he said. “As a whole, I think I did a pretty good job of really getting people to buy into the character.”
It’s his character – and work ethic – that has allowed Byrd to become one of the top signal-callers in the area, as his stats pile up along with interested collegiate suitors. Through five weeks of action he is among the area leaders in passing yards (1,027) and passing touchdowns (12), while drastically improving his quarterback rating (it’s currently 138.8) and TDs-to-INTs ratio (12-to-3) over a year ago.
“Jake is making great strides in his ability to make good pre-snap decisions,” coach Tim Mannigel said. “He’d be the first to tell you (that) he still has a ways to go, but (his decision-making) is certainly better this year.”
“Honestly,” Byrd said, “I’m a little disappointed with the two losses (to Homestead and Bishop Luers). We didn’t deserve to play in that game against Snider (a humbling 37-7 loss), but the Luers and Homestead games – we had those games. We easily could be 4-1, but we couldn’t finish as a team. We know we’re a good team; we just have to be more consistent.
“Personally, I feel I’ve been making better decisions with the ball – not giving it to the other team – and really valuing that ball. My completion percentage (44 percent) isn’t where I want it to be, but I think I’m having a good year. Just not the best year that I should be having. We’ve got five more games guaranteed, so …”
The next guaranteed game comes tonight at Zollner Stadium against the Class 4A No. 1 Bishop Dwenger Saints (5-0) in their homecoming.
“I’m not too worried about what they’re going to do. They’re going to do it very well,” Byrd said of the Saints. “They’re a fast, physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth-type of team. We have to be really ready because it’s a pride match (since) we share Zollner, and it’s going to be a big game because of the connections that (both schools have).”
When the Cadets and Saints played last year (a 27-0 Saints conquest), the BD defense picked off six passes.
“I could care less about last year; I really don’t care about that game,” Byrd said. “They’ve got a whole new coaching staff, a good amount of new players for them. I put that game behind me the Saturday morning after it happened.”
Byrd’s move-on mentality, along with his rearing, has allowed him to grow into the leader he’s become. When things go wrong, pick up the pieces and move forward. When asked to serve, step up. When a unique challenge lands on your lap, dive in and see where it takes you.
“My parents have always encouraged me to do things and put me in the best position to do everything (that I wanted to do),” he said. “All of my siblings; we do a lot. That’s how we were raised in the competitive household we have.”
“I think it’s great that Jake has branched out in this way,” Mannigel said of his QB’s broadened interests. “He definitely has a flair for the dramatic. He’s a social person who is well liked in the hallways. Obviously, he’s been an important part of what we do on the football field, but he’s much more than that. He’s going to be somebody that we’re all proud of, both for the person he is today and the person he’s going to be.”
The jury is still somewhat out on Byrd’s future. Will he play college football (Taylor University and Carthage College have offered, while Saint Francis has shown some interest, among others)?
Byrd, No. 21, is the latest in a line of quarterbacks to find success for the Cadets (photo Doug Blackwell/Northeast Indiana GameNight)
Will he pursue a career in acting?
Will he follow his political ambitions (he and fellow student Kennedy Trice co-chair Students for Social Change at Concordia)?
When asked what direction the versatile Byrd will go, he laughs.
“I really don’t know where I’ll be next year for the fall of my freshman year,” he said. “I have a few options right now. I have to really pray about that and see where God leads me – in what direction. I think I definitely want to take the political science route and go to law school. Watching what’s going on in the world today, it’s really inspiring.
“I think in 10 years I’ll probably be in law school or in a court system somewhere. Who knows the path God has in store for me.”
One thing is certain, Jake Byrd will find his way.
And that’s no fish story.