Byard

Kevin Byard

Training camp in the NFL can be full of surprises on and off the field. But the surprise that Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard received at Thursday’s practice session just may take the cake.

And no, we aren’t talking about Byard picking off quarterback Ryan Tannehill for Tannehill’s first interception of camp.

Byard found out Thursday that his alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University, will be retiring his No. 20 jersey this fall.

“I wasn’t prepared for that,” Byard said after MTSU President Sidney McPhee broke the news. “What an honor.”

Byard played four seasons at MTSU from 2012-2015. He made sure to thank coach Rick Stockstill and the Blue Raider family for supporting him during his college career.

“I’ve always appreciated the mentor, the father role that you’ve played in my life,” Byard said to Stockstill. “Listen, I played with a lot of great players at MTSU, a lot of great coaches. Obviously, I couldn’t have done it on my own.”

Stockstill, who is still head football coach at MTSU, had some words of affirmation of his own for the All-Pro safety.

“He came as a professional,” Stockstill said. “He did everything right off the field. He had an incredible work ethic. He was extremely focused on his goals and what he wanted to accomplish not only as a student, not only as a football player, but as a man.”

In his four seasons as a Blue Raider, Byard racked up 318 total tackles and a program record 19 interceptions, four of which were returned for touchdowns. His level of play as a junior and senior earned him first-team All-Conference USA honors.

Since being drafted by the home-state Titans with the No. 64 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Byard has been recognized as a first-team All Pro twice and has been named to two Pro Bowls. He co-led the league in interceptions in 2017 with eight. He has been worth his weight in gold as the anchor of the Titans’ secondary, as the team has made the playoffs in four of Byard’s six seasons.

Byard’s No. 20 will become just the second retired uniform number in MTSU football history, joining 1960s quarterback Teddy Morris’ No. 14. Byard’s number will also be just the sixth retired uniform across all MTSU athletics.

A ceremony is set for Sept. 30 when the Blue Raiders take on the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners.