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Scholar athlete: Byrd draws inspiration from biographies

NATCHEZ — Malik Byrd can often be found drawing his inspirations from the pages of other athletes’ biographies.

Just recently, the Natchez High School freshman receiver finished books on boxer Muhammad Ali and athlete Jim Thorpe. Though he’s required to read and take Accelerated Reader tests for Cassandra Jones’ English class, Byrd said he doesn’t just read because he’s supposed to.

“I always wanted to read a book on Ali,” Byrd said. “He’s a very inspiring role model, and he’s also a good athlete. I remember watching TV and seeing Jim Thorpe’s name, so I went and checked out a book on him.”

Byrd is an A/B student at NHS and starts for the Bulldogs as the team’s punt and kickoff returner. His formula for making good grades is rather simple.

“I just pay attention in class, go home and study,” Byrd said. “That’s about it.”

NHS head coach Lance Reed said he’s been very impressed with Bryd’s drive as a student-athlete in the early part of his high school career.

“Basically, he’s self-disciplined,” Reed said. “He’s focused, and he pays attention. He’s really into whatever the task is at hand. In his first few months at Natchez High, he’s shown that he’s focused in the direction he wants to go.”

Bryd said there are several things about the athletes he’s read about that stick out. Ali worked hard to train himself, and he always stood up for what he believed in, Byrd said.

“He didn’t let anyone run over him,” he said.

Thorpe, who played professional football, basketball and baseball, and was an Olympic athlete in the early 1900s, had to overcome a lot in life to succeed, Byrd said.

“He had a rough childhood, but he always seemed to manage and stick things out,” Byrd said.

Potentially next on his reading list is a book about the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli. Byrd said he’s trying to soak in as much information about these stars as possible.

“I’m just trying to see how to be a great athlete,” Byrd said.

As a return man, Byrd is already getting the chance to show his skills, even though he’s only a freshman. Reed said Byrd is someone they ask a lot out of.

“He returns kicks and punts, and for him to have that responsibility is a huge deal,” Reed said. “We’re comfortable with him in those positions, and we expect good things in the future.”

Math is Byrd’s favorite subject, and since Reed is a math teacher, he said he’s thought about the possibility of being in Reed’s math class one day.

“I think it would be good,” Byrd said. “He pushes me hard. He makes sure the football players do right in school, that’s the No. 1 thing.”

Byrd’s ability to make plays in the return game starts with his hands, Reed said.

“He’s good with the ball in his hands,” Reed said. “He’s aggressive and elusive. He’s small, but he will definitely keep growing and get stronger. He’s capable of doing good things with the ball.”

Byrd said he might want to be a veterinarian one day, since he enjoys animals. Though he was born in Jackson, Byrd moved to Texas at a young age before moving to Natchez when he was 11. Because of his time in the Lone Star State, Byrd said he’s always wanted to attend the University of Texas.

“I’ve been a Longhorns fan ever since I was little,” he said.

Byrd is the son of Brenda Byrd and Jonathan Ivory.