Jada Byers can do just about everything on the football field.
He can run. He can catch. He can pass.
He just can’t stay quiet.
“I tried to be humble,” Byers said moments after leading St. Joseph to another state title with a 41-22 victory over Holy Spirit in the Non-Public 2 final Nov. 30 in MetLife Stadium. “But I was like, ‘Coach, they can’t stick me.’ ”
St. Joseph’s veteran coach, Paul Sacco, is used to hearing from Byers. Everybody around the program is used to hearing from Byers. The team’s junior star is nicknamed “June Bug” because of his effervescence and energy.
“He’s the personality of the team,” Sacco said. “He’s always upbeat.”
Said senior two-way standout lineman Brad Lomax: “Jada never shuts up.”
Byers is the Inquirer’s offensive player of the year because of his production on the football field. He ran for 1,738 yards. He scored 35 touchdowns. He set the school record with 232 points.
He caught four touchdown passes, including two in the state final. He threw a touchdown pass. He even returned a pair of interceptions for scores.
But those numbers don’t fully represent Byers’ value to the Wildcats.
In a program run by the demanding, detail-oriented and forever-fretting Sacco, Byers is the one player who can serve as a counterpoint to the tightly-coiled coach. He’s sunshine that sneaks in the darkened film room. He’s laughter that lightens the mood during another intense practice.
“He’s always telling me, ‘Coach, we’re got to have fun today,’ ” Sacco said. “I’ll be like, ‘Jada, it’s not fun for me because we’re not doing the things we need to do.’
“He’ll say, ‘Oh, Coach, you know we have to have some fun.’ ”
Not many of Sacco’s players over 36 seasons have been able to tease the coach. Byers gets away with it.
“He wears his heart on sleeve,” Sacco said.
Byers might be the most dynamic playmaker in St. Joseph history. He has scored 67 touchdowns and 434 points in his first three seasons. That puts him within reach of former Paulsboro star Kevin Harvey’s South Jersey records of 101 touchdowns and 656 points, set in 1995, per research by state sports historian Chuck Langerman.
“He’s the most electric, exciting player I’ve seen in my life,” Lomax said.
Said St. Joseph senior two-way back Nate Johnson: “He’s the Magic Man.”
Standing 5-foot-7 and weighing 162 pounds, Byers looks like a classic scat back. But he’s able to run between the tackles and bounces up from the hardest hits.
“Three things make him so dangerous,” Holy Spirit coach A.J. Russo said. “One, his speed and agility. Two, he competes. Three, his toughness.”
Perhaps because of his diminutive stature, Byers has been lightly recruited. He has just one scholarship offer, from the University of Massachusetts.
“I can’t understand it,” Sacco said of the lack of interest from other college programs.
Byers scored six touchdowns in the season opener against Hamden (Conn.) Hall. He scored five touchdowns against Millville. He ran for one score, passed for another and returned an interception for a third against St. Augustine Prep.
In three state tournament games, Byers scored 12 touchdowns. He reached the end zone three times in the state final against Holy Spirit but made the biggest impression on his coach by chasing a teammate the length of the field during another score.
That happened late in the first half when St. Joseph sophomore Ahmad Ross broke loose for an 88-yard touchdown.
“He and Ahmad [Ross] are very close,” Sacco said. “Perfect example of the kind of kid Jada is. He’s running after him with tears in his eyes because he’s so happy for him.