Byers enters sophomore year with high expectations

BY BEN SCHUFF | MARCH 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Matt Byers has been a Hawkeye for 18 months.

He has competed in seven college track meets.

But by the end of this outdoor season, Iowa track and field coaches are expecting him to be a two-time Big Ten champion javelin thrower.

How he plans to get there — much as how he has gotten to where he is now — will be up to him.

In high school, football was a way of life, “… not like in Texas, but it was pretty serious,” Byers said.

During Byers’ senior season, he became the third quarterback in Wichita East (Kan.) High history to pass for 1,000 yards in a season, and the first to do so in more than 30 years.

His father, Brian Byers, was his football and track coach at Wichita East. Brian Byers originally wanted his son to join the track team as a high-school freshman so he could train with the sprinters to work on his foot speed for football.

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He recalled one day at track practice during Matt’s freshman year when Matt asked him what else he could do.

“I told him since he’d been hanging around with some of the throwers, ‘Why don’t you throw that dang thing?’ ”

That “dang thing” was the javelin. And by his senior year, Byers excelled in two sports.

While Matt Byers received some interest from Kansas and Kansas State for football, Iowa throws coach Scott Cappos’ genuine interest landed Byers in Iowa City.

Brian Byers, 55, who grew up in Iowa, tried to stay out of his son’s decision-making process as much as possible. He wanted his son to go where Matt wanted.

“I was better at track, and it was taking off, so I had to keep going with it,” Matt Byers said. “I got letters from other schools, but I could tell they were [generic] letters. When [Cappos] sent his, he took the time to write ‘I coached a Big Ten champion.’ ”

During the summer after his senior year, he traveled to Trinidad and Tobago as part of the U.S. Junior National team and competed in the 2009 Pan American Junior Athletics Championship. He threw against some of the top competitors from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Canada who were between the ages of 16 and 19.

Byers finished third with a throw of 65.83 meters. To put that in perspective, that same distance would have earned him second place at the 2009 outdoor Big Tens.

“He was a blue-chip guy coming in, so we thought he would have an impact,” Iowa head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “Now, whether you could say he could win the Big Ten or not, that’s another story.”

As soon as Cappos had Byers under his tutelage, however, the coach wasted no time in setting high goals.

“I talked about [winning a Big Ten title] the first day of practice,” Cappos said. “I talked about it over the summer before he even came to Iowa.”

Byers said at times last year during meets, he would return to his high-school form and just try to throw as far as he could. This year, a focus on technique will be key as he hopes to improve his consistency.

What may make Byers’ Big Ten title last year more impressive is the fact he was the only freshman to even place in the top eight, and in turn, score points for his team. When he moved on to the NCAA championships, he was one of only five freshmen to compete among the 22 throwers in Eugene, Ore.

This year, the Hawkeyes are counting on another 10 points from their javelin thrower come May. And the soft spoken 20-year-old is more than ready to defend his championship.

“Seeing how [Big Tens are] in Iowa City, I don’t want anybody else to win it,” Byers said. “Iowa is a Hawkeye State, and I really don’t want anybody else to come in here and just take the team championship or the javelin [title]. I want it to stay here.”

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