Penn State fullback Byers looking forward to meeting Navy comrades

Posted: September 14, 2012

STATE COLLEGE - What does football mean to a guy like P.J. Byers?

Heck, what does just being a student mean to a guy like P.J. Byers, when he knows that not too long from now, he'll be enrolled in something so much more meaningful in the grand scheme of things?

Byers, a senior fullback at Penn State, is an active-duty member of the U.S. Navy. After graduation, he will be a commissioned officer and train to become a dive specialist, taking care of underwater explosives as a Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal officer.

But Byers is grounded and down to earth. He doesn't really expect any extra credit for what he does. "You're welcome for my service," Byers chuckled when a media member thanked him for his service at a news conference this week. "I love my job, so I don't know what else to say."

On Saturday, 0-2 Penn State will play Navy for the first time since 1974 during Military Appreciation Day.

As one might imagine, the game will have special meaning for Byers, as he will be playing against his teammates from another walk of life. Though Byers' primary duties right now are mimicking the Navy fullback during practice on Penn State's scout team (or "dirty show," as coach Bill O'Brien calls it), he'd be ecstatic to see some real action against the Midshipmen. Last season, he had one carry for 1 yard against Eastern Michigan.

"If I got any kind of carry, or any kind of blocking or any playing time, it would mean the world to me," said the personable Byers. "I mean, I am already more grateful that I have a position on the team and I'm helping the team as a scout team player. As a football player, any type of playing time is phenomenal, but against the Navy it would just be . . . it would be awesome for me."

Byers, 27, walked on the Penn State team in 2010. He was enrolled at Marietta College in 2003-04 and wanted to become a Navy SEAL, but he failed the eyesight requirements and adjusted his goals to become a diver. His uncle is a scuba instructor and it's something Byers always has been interested in. Byers was stationed in Pearl Harbor and San Diego before he came to Penn State.

So what's it like being on active duty, meaning he is a "full-time" member of the Navy, while balancing football and schoolwork?

"Everybody is always curious about how that works, because typical student-athletes just have to deal with academics and football," Byers says, "but, you know, football is another class in itself . . . As a Naval officer, everything that I'm learning here is time management, because being in the military, we have so many tasks that we have to accomplish in a day and if you don't have good time-management skills then you could fall behind."

Byers also says he uses what he learns at Penn State to become a better leader.

Knowing the 6-foot, 246-pound Byers has such lofty aspirations for when he graduates in May, the rest of the team has utmost respect for him.

Words that O'Brien used to describe his "dirty show'' fullback were "unique" and "special."

"He's definitely a guy that everybody enjoys having on the team," junior linebacker Glenn Carson said. "He's very well-liked and very well-respected.''

During Penn State's training camp, former Nittany Lions player and Navy SEAL Rick Slater spoke to the team about loyalty. The team as a whole loved the speech; to Byers, who keeps both a copy in his locker and an electronic version, it meant even more.

Maybe Byers can be the one giving that speech someday.

"I would love to use that speech for my guys in the future to help lead some troops," Byers said.

Penn State-Navy

Is Saturday going to be the day when Bill O'Brien directs Penn State's first win since 1997?

If so, Penn State (0-2) is going to have to stifle the triple-option offense of Navy and coach Ken Niumatalolo.

It's a complex offense, one that is tough to prepare for. As opposed to the regular old option, in which either the running back or the quarterback can take off with the ball, two running backs are implemented into the equation.

"It's very difficult to practice it because you're talking about cut blocks and triple option and triple option play action," O'Brien said. "What we do is we get our 'dirty show' offense team out there a little earlier and they run through the plays [Navy is going] to run with our defense. So hopefully it's executed when they come out for practice and they can see a picture of what they're doing."

Navy (0-1) was thrashed by Notre Dame in their only game this season in Dublin, Ireland, 50-10.

Nits notes * 

Freshman backup placekicker Matt Marcincin has left the team for personal reasons, spokesman Jeff Nelson confirmed. Nelson said Marcincin, a walk-on, remains enrolled at the university.

* The last time the teams met, in 1974 at Beaver Stadium, the Midshipmen snapped the Lions' 21-game home winning streak by a score of 7-6. Penn State leads the series, 18-17-2.

* Running backs Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (shoulder), defensive end Pete Massaro (shoulder) and linebacker Nyeem Wartman (knee) are listed as possible. Tackle Donovan Smith is also banged up, and did not practice on Wednesday.

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