When the topic of two sport athletes comes up (especially with football and baseball), the conversation naturally steers toward the amazing careers of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Sometimes, that conversation veers in the direction of Michael Jordan, although no one really considers him a two sport overachiever. Most of the accolades go to Jackson and Sanders, but there are so many more that were great in two sports (or even three) but opted to focus on one. Dan Marino was drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of high school but chose to play quarterback in college at Pitt. Johnny Manziel opted against playing for the San Diego Padres system in favor of a pro football career in Cleveland. Tony Gonzalez starred at Cal as a forward on the basketball team, but made the professional leap to the NFL instead. Kansas great Issac Byrd is another example.
It’s kind of strange that Byrd’s name doesn’t come up in this list from Wikipedia when mentioning two sport athletes whose primary sport was American football. It’s true that he never made it to the majors, but he was drafted and played a little minor league baseball. Others on the list are mentioned as college baseball or basketball players, but somehow Byrd doesn’t make the list. It’s a shame because he was a heck of a baseball player, especially during his years at KU.
During his time as a Jayhawk (1995 and 1996 seasons), Byrd was named the MVP of the baseball team, first team All-Big 8, first team All-Big 8 Tournament, and second team All-America. He hit .364 in 106 games as a Jayhawk with a slugging percentage of .521 and an OPS of .964. The KU centerfielder was drafted by his hometown Cardinals in the ninth round following his junior season (after high school, he was drafted by the Padres in the 24th round, but opted for college instead). Playing only in the summer of 1996, Byrd didn’t last long in professional baseball (24 games in which he hit .277 with 2 HR and 15 RBI) and he returned to Lawrence in the fall of 1996.
This time, he suited up for his senior season as a wide receiver for Glen Mason and the Kansas football team. Having already played for the 1995 Aloha Bowl champions and racking up some nice numbers (48 receptions, 604 yards, five touchdowns), he made a clear jump in the 1996 campaign. In that season, Byrd had 53 receptions for 840 yards. That’s an average of 15.8 yards per catch. Byrd also grabbed seven touchdown passes, but he added a new dimension to his game as a punt returner. He did it in ’95, but stepped up his return game during the 1996 season. He returned 11 punts, taking one all the way back for a touchdown and averaging 19.5 yards per return in the process.
Isaac Byrd was named to the second team All-Big 12 team after that 1996 season and was rewarded by being drafted by the Tennessee Oilers in the 6th round. Of course, he played for those Titans, even featuring in Super Bowl XXXIV. He later played for the Carolina Panthers and totaled 93 catches and six touchdowns in his six seasons as an NFL player.