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Falcons' Dontez Byrd reflects on childhood letter he wrote to his mother on dream of playing pro football  


We've all been asked or pondered the question when we were young: What do you want to be when you grow up?

For the vast majority of us, that response is guaranteed to change a dozen or so times over the years.

Then there are people like Dontez Byrd. The Falcons rookie receiver is proof that there's no such thing as a dream that's too big.

In middle school, Byrd sat through a seminar about the meaning of legacy. Each student was asked to write a letter to a significant person of their choice about what they wanted their legacy to be.

Byrd chose to write the letter to his mom and in it he detailed his dream of wanting to play professional football one day.

And while he's turned that dream into a reality, Byrd's journey to this point has been anything but easy. Byrd graduated from Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky, with zero scholarship offers to play collegiate football.

At that point, it would have been easy for Byrd to scrap his life-long dream of playing in the NFL and start pondering other career paths.

Those thoughts, however, never crossed Byrd's mind.

The Louisville coaching staff asked Byrd if he would come join the team as a preferred walk-on. He jumped at the chance to go play football at his "dream school." After red-shirting his freshman year, Byrd made a name for himself on special teams, ultimately earning him a scholarship offer.

"Being a walk-on at a university isn't the easiest thing," Byrd said. "You have to really stand out in order to get the coaches' attention."

Following his sophomore season at Louisville, Byrd transferred to Tennessee Tech. He said the decision ended up being a "great move" because he was able to produce the way he knew he could if given the opportunity.

Byrd became the first Tennessee Tech receiver to have more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season in 2017 when he caught 78 passes for 1,003 yards.

Following his impressive career at Tennessee Tech, Byrd believed he had showcased enough that he would get drafted in one of the later rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Byrd said he and his family gathered around a TV for seven hours on the final day of the draft hoping his name would get called.

No call.

Much like his situation coming out of high school, what Byrd hoped would happen didn't necessarily work out the way he envisioned it would but that wouldn't stop him from pursuing his dream.

"I didn't come this far to just come this far," Byrd said of what he told himself at that moment. "There's a purpose [of why] I came this far."

Byrd didn't get caught up in not being drafted. To him, it didn't matter how he got on a team, he was focused on how he would prove himself when he got there. After the draft, Byrd's agent told him signing with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent would be the best fit for him.

And he's made the most of his opportunity so far. After a training camp in which he made several impressive plays, Byrd caught two passes for 35 yards in Atlanta's first preseason game against the Jets last Friday night. A few days before the game, Byrd's mother sent him a picture of the letter he wrote back in middle school as a reminder of how far he's come.

"He's actually somebody and you guys have seen that as well, his ability to make plays," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "You've seen that in practice. He's a slot but can also play outside, he's been excellent on special teams when he's been called upon. He's somebody that definitely has our attention. He has excellent hands, runs excellent routes. He's a pretty fearless guy too and he's wanting more. He wants a role on special teams to see what he can do. He's been an excellent addition for us."

Byrd credits his humble personality as the reason he's been able to defy the odds and fulfill his dream.

"I'm a very hungry and humble person," Byrd said. "At the end of the day, I just know to keep fighting, it's going to work out because that's what happened to me in college."

Byrd's fighting for a spot in a position group that's already loaded with talent, but if you think he consumes his mind with thoughts about anything other than putting his best work on display every chance he gets, think again.

"My mentality is always I just want to take it one day or one play at a time," Byrd said. "Not look into the future or roster numbers or anything, I just want to take it one day at a time and just continue to grind."

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