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January 14, 2012
A little more than a decade after Sunny Byrd's ascension to starting tailback for the 2001 USC Trojans, not a day goes by that he isn't reminded of his place in USC football history.
"It's still crazy to have people I've never met recognize me from my playing days at USC," Byrd said.
"Crazy" can just as easily be the operative word for Byrd's football career trajectory. Not recruited out of high school, Byrd spent two years at El Camino College before receiving a scholarship to join USC -- right in time for Pete Carroll's first season. Byrd began his career buried on the depth chart at fullback and not much was expected out of him.
However, after multiple Trojan tailbacks were injured and Byrd proved his worth in Carroll's all-important practices, he was awarded the starting job for the final six games of the season. Though Byrd wasn't flashy and never gained more than 67 yards in a game, he was a power runner known for getting the tough yard.
But Byrd would gain the adoration of the Trojan faithful, becoming a cult hero of sorts -- the guy with the unique name and punishing style who maintained his carefree, surfer exterior.
Though Byrd returned to fullback for his senior year in 2002 and carried the ball just eight times, he would remain an integral part of the team that began the Carroll dynasty.
In fact, looking back at his time as a Trojan, Byrd says his favorite memory isn't anything from the surreal personal season he experienced in 2001, but rather in being part of the 2002 team that restored the program's pride.
He still has memories of that season's Orange Bowl, including scoring a touchdown on his final carry as a Trojan. It was the perfect bookend to a career that began with a TD on his very first carry the year before.
Though the NFL never came calling, Byrd has remained around the game by acting in numerous commercials and movies as a "stunt athlete."
He got his first break shortly after graduation in 2003 when he worked on an Arena Football League commercial that included John Elway and Jon Bon Jovi. Shortly after, Byrd spent three months filming the movie "Friday Night Lights."
Other productions Byrd has been a part of include "We Are Marshall", "Gridiron Gang", and a host of television shows and commercials, including many of former USC teammate Troy Polamalu's "Head and Shoulders" spots.
Citing the bonds he has forged over the last decade plus with various members of the Trojan family, Byrd notes that he has received numerous acting roles through stunt coordinator Allen Graf, a former USC offensive lineman and father of current starting offensive tackle Kevin Graf.
Though Byrd no longer actively solicits acting roles, he is always ready when a phone call comes, especially for something football-related.
"It's fun to just get away from the day job and strap on the pads again," he said.
As for that "day job," Byrd was named Sports Marketing Coordinator for the Los Angeles Athletic Club two years ago. Since then, he has been instrumental in working with the LAAC's storied Wooden Award, given annually to the best collegiate basketball player in the country.
While preserving one of the greatest traditions in Los Angeles sports, Byrd is looking to start a new one with the Los Angeles Collegiate Boxing Invitational. Held for the first time in November, 2010, the event was envisioned originally by Byrd as an opportunity to hold matches at different weight classes between the club boxing teams of USC and UCLA with annual bragging rights on the line.
Though the two LA schools are still marketed as the "main event" and a champion is crowned between them, the event expanded in just its second year. Other teams from around the country, including Cal, Maryland, and West Point, joined the action this year, held on Veteran's Day.
Though Byrd is excited about the future of the event, the ever-proud Trojan was just as quick to include one other detail: USC won each of the first two years.
Johnie Freatman is a Communications major at USC and has covered the Trojans for Neon Tommy, KXSC Radio, Trojan Vision, and ATVN. Follow him on Twitter at johnie_freatman.
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