Lakeside High School senior Charles O'Byrne attracted a crowd last week, but after he signed a letter of intent to attend University of Charleston (West Virginia) on a football scholarship, O'Byrne admitted the attendees might have had ulterior motives.
"I think a little of it is getting out of class, but I'm glad they're here," O'Byrne said at the Wednesday signing ceremony.
O'Byrne may have a point, but perhaps there's another reason why friends, family, coaches and teammates packed into the Lakeside media center.
And we're not talking about the cake, which O'Byrne cut and distributed to well wishers after putting pen to paper.
Just as he secured a Division II football scholarship with strong play for the Panthers the past three years, O'Byrne has earned respect and recognition from his peers.
Lakeside's Charles O'Byrne signs a football scholarship to play at University of Charleston in West Virginia, as his mother, Angela O'Byrne (left), his grandparents Lillian and Robert Wilkie and teammates look on.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Count Lakeside head coach Randy Hill as one of O'Byrne's biggest fans.
"This is a great opportunity. He has the ability to play at the next level, with his capability and hard work," Hill said. "He's one of those types of kids who would do whatever you ask of him."
Much was asked of O'Byrne during his prep football career. The three-year starter anchored the offensive line at center, and he also contributed at defensive tackle for the Panthers.
The job wasn't easy, either. Lakeside competes in Region 3-AAAA, which has produced the past two Georgia High School Association Class AAAA state champions, so O'Byrne has had to butt heads with some of the best prep players in the state.
The Panthers lost all of their battles during the 2002 season, but O'Byrne may have won the war because he held his own against rugged opponents.
"That showed me what I need to expect of myself if I wanted to take it to the next level," he said. "The competition made me a better player. Hopefully some of those great players thought the same thing about me."
O'Byrne will play center for the Golden Eagles. While Charleston is just restarting its football program this year after a long hiatus, O'Byrne knows he won't just have a starting job handed to him at the next level.
"I'm sure I'll be intimidated, but I won't let it show," he said. "I'm going to play as hard as I can. Maybe I'll get a chance to play, or even start as a freshman."
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