One’s an aspiring Navy officer. One’s a former Marine. This week, one will be running Navy’s triple option in his sleep, the other will be coming off the defensive edge, aiming at Penn State ball carriers.
Their goal? Get PSU ready to earn its first win of the season Saturday when the Nittany Lions host the Midshipmen.
Instead of attending Annapolis, senior fullback/Navy diver P.J. Byers began his path toward a commission by enlisting after his high school graduation. After a delayed entry and stops in Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii and San Diego, Byers applied to become an officer. Once selected for the program, he enrolled in Penn State in 2010, pursuing a football dream that began during his prep days at Penn-Trafford High School, outside of Pittsburgh.
In 2011, he had one carry for 1 yard against Eastern Michigan, according to his PSU bio. This year, he’s a key contributor to what Penn State coach Bill O’Brien calls the “dirty show” — the group that mimics opponents’ plays and formations in practice.
Maybe you’d recognize it as a “scout team” or, more likely, a “red team.” At Penn State, it used to be called the “foreign team.” O’Brien brought “dirty show” over from his old squad, the New England Patriots — a small part of Happy Valley’s seismic shift over the last year.
Byers joins former Marine Brent Smith — a 26-year-old freshman with two tours of Iraq to his credit, according to this piece — among the dirty. Smith fit in right away.
“He came in full beard, sticking out everywhere,” Byers says of his teammate in the above video. “What every military man does when he finishes out his contract.”
Smith’s job will be to pressure the struggling PSU offensive front during practice. Byers has some heavier lifting — impersonating a triple-option Navy fullback, attempting to give the Penn State defense a real-life look at a confusing offense most have only seen in the film room.
(“I didn’t schedule Navy,” O’Brien joked during his weekly press conference.)
When asked about playing against future fellow officers, Byers told the media everything one would expect — about respect for the players and the Naval Academy as an institution, about the work ethic instilled by the service. But make no mistake, he’s not taking it easy on anybody.
“We have a mission here, and that’s winning every game,” Byers said. “As one team, we work toward that mission, just like a dive team.”
Read more about Byers in this 2011 PSU feature.
(UPDATE: Courtesy of the folks in the PSU athletic department, catch an interview with Smith below. Key quote about Iraq: “If anybody says they weren’t scared over there, they’re a liar.”)