On Wednesday, August 26th, I was given the opportunity to talk with Seattle Dragons WR Dontez Byrd, and this man is ready for football.
For those unfamiliar, Byrd was a walk-on at Lousiville, where he made a name for himself on special teams, later earning himself a scholarship. In 2016, he transferred to Tennesse Tech in search of more playing time for his junior and senior seasons.
Dontez found the playing time he sought, ending his first season in Tennesse with a school-record 993 yards on 74 receptions, then broke his own record the following year. He was also a threat in the return game where after returning a 100-yard kick for a touchdown against Mercer, he was named the STATS FCS National Specialist of the week as well as Conference Specialist of the Week.
Byrd averaged 26.3 yards per return piling up 658 total yards on 25 returns and when the season concluded, was named to the leagues All-Newcomer team as well as the All-OVC team.
Coming out of college, Dontez was introduced to a well-connected man in the football world named Tony Softli.
Softli has held many positions within different football operations over the years. His prior titles include the former director of player personnel for the XFL Seattle Dragons, an executive in the league office for the Alliance of American Football, The Director of NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and an executive in multiple NFL front offices with fifteen years of player personnel experience.
With Softli’s help and connections, Dontez began getting involved with the NFLPA and was later given a shot in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. He spent a few months in Atlanta before being released at the end of the 2018 preseason, but rather than sit in NFL free agency hoping to be signed, Byrd continued to look for opportunities.
In 2019, Byrd went on to sign with the Memphis Express in the AAF where he played out the season before its bankruptcy. He caught 10 of 16 targets going for 131 yards a touchdown and a 2pt conversion.
Following his time in the AAF, Byrd went on to play for the Seattle Dragons in the XFL. In 5 games played for the Dragons, he pulled in 5 catches totaling 44 yards, averaging 8.8 yards per reception.
As the league was approaching the soon to be canceled week 6 games, the Dragons were going about business as usual. News of the XFL league stoppage broke and Dontez flew home immediately to avoid being locked down in Seattle. Though Dontez had faced yet another obstacle, this too would not be enough for him to give up on his pursuit of a career in football.
Byrd went on to pursue playing in the CFL, signing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but sadly before he was able to even take the field for Hamilton, the football league which he was a part of had once again canceled their season. On Aug 17, 2020, the CFL announced it would not be playing the shortened season which they had hoped for and players would be allowed to opt-out of their contracts.
Talk about bad luck, this was now the third professional football league Dontez had been a part of to cancel due to the pandemic and/or bankruptcy.
Although this difficult path now took him home to Louisville, Byrd continued putting in work. With constant rumors of new XFL ownership in the air, Dontez did not want to lose a step and risk missing out on his chance for a comeback.
He was given the opportunity by his friend John Guinness, who owns a gym in his home town, to do some personal training with clients. Through this, he was able to remain in football shape, be around something he loves, and simultaneously help others in the process.
While on his training grind, it was announced the XFL had been purchased by The Rock, Dany Garcia, and Redbird Capital, giving him another potential path to return to professional football. Following the news of the new league ownership, Dontez officially opted-out of his CFL contract.
When I asked his thoughts about these new owners taking the helm, he agreed with me saying they bring with them a much higher ceiling for the league than McMahon did. Not only do they bring more potential, but they seem to have the best interest of everyone involved in mind based on the statements they’ve released since their acquisition.
When asked if he could change anything about the XFL, from the rules of the game to getting new jerseys, he responded
“Honestly I can say it was good how it was. I had no complaints, I really enjoyed it”
This seems to be how the majority of people involved in the XFL 2.0 had felt about its football operations. The consensus seemed to be the people involved loved it because it was another shot at professional football in a well-organized environment. Sadly, almost no amount of organization could prepare them for the incoming pandemic.
Before we concluded our conversation, I asked Dontez if he had anything he wanted to tell anyone who may be keeping tabs on him, or to anyone who may be rooting for his comeback. He said he wants people to know
“I’m still ready to go, I haven’t lost sight or focus of the main goal and I’ve been taking care of my body. I’m just ready to get back to doing what I love which is being on the football field making plays and being around my teammates.”
Dontez Byrd has a deep passion for the game and like many others is ready and eager to get the call to come back to football. His goal is a career in the NFL, and just like many, he hopes to continue to build up his resume while continuing to do what he loves.
For now, we are seemingly in the calm before the storm that will be the XFL 3.0 announcements, and all we can do is wait in the suspense. Hopefully, Dontez along with many other highly motivated and dedicated XFL 2.0 players will be given the opportunity they seek to once again return to the game they love.
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