Posted: 10:44 am Thursday, August 19th, 2010

For now, Boca Raton offense will miss running back Keith Byars II 

By Matt Porter

BOCA RATON — Keith Byars is a harsh, discerning football coach. He’s also a dad. And there’s little question as to which hand rules the other.

His son, Keith Byars II, happens to be his team’s most talented running back. He’s a 5-foot-10, 205-pound bull who was last seen ripping off a 94-yard touchdown run in Boca’s spring game win over Oakland Park-Northeast on May 28.

But in the Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 tournament July 24 in Orlando, the younger Byars went up to catch a pass, was kneed in the gut by an opposing DB, and went down in a world of hurt. His spleen was ruptured, and he needed surgery on it before he could return home.

After several weeks spent mostly sitting, young Byars is improving. Though he would love to be back for Boca’s kickoff classic game against Hollywood Hills (Aug. 28) or its season opener at West Boca (Sept. 3), his dad says that’s doubtful.

“He wants to, but I don’t think so,” said Byars, of his son’s chances of playing in the season opener.

Young Byars had the staples on his stomach removed two weeks ago. He is pain-free, but he has yet to do much. “Only thing I can do is ride the stationary bike. They don’t want me running. It feels good, but the inside is what they’re worried about,” he said.

“There is no pain right now because he’s not pushing himself,” said Dad Byars. “The biggest thing he has to fear right now is a hernia. He starts to do too much, now he’s looking at an operation. Then it’s eight more weeks.”

* * *

Byars’ absence hangs another question mark on an offense that’s replacing its starting quarterback, running back and best wide receiver.

Sophomore QB Kevin Anderson has good size (6-1, 185) but as of this writing has yet to take a varsity snap.

“He’s got a lot of raw ability, but he’s still learning,” said Byars. “He’s never played on a Friday night.”

Last year, Byars could count on Sullivan to pull the Bobcats out of trouble. He doesn’t yet know if he can do that with Anderson.

“He’s just one-eleventh of the offense,” said Byars. “Last year, Eddie wasn’t necessarily one-eleventh. He was a little bit bigger than that.”

Wide receiver Cameron Lewis has the potential to be bigger than one-eleventh. The Bobcats’ most dynamic player, Lewis had 20 catches for 326 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2009. He’s not large (5-10, 175), but he has decent speed and a nose for the ball.

Lewis will line up with fellow senior Connor Halley (6-1, 185) and junior Ron Moore (5-11, 160), who “will be surprising people this year,” Byars said.

The Bobcats’ running back situation is less clear. Rising junior Antaurius “A.J.” Walters transferred to West Boca, leaving Tard McCoy the go-to option. The sophomore is 5-9, 180 and …

Wait. Tard?

“Funny name, huh? T-A-R-D. Named after his daddy,” said Byars.

(As a journalist, you’re not supposed to root for players. Let it be known I am breaking this rule for Tard McCoy.)

* * *

Some other observations from Wednesday’s practice:

Boca’s lines will be a strength. Left tackle Ben Mitchell (junior, 6-4, 240), left guard Sean Ronan (senior, 6-4, 250) and right tackle Ricky Zebart (senior, 6-4, 220) have the size to match up with other big fronts in District 8-6A.

On the defensive side, 6-2, 280-pound senior Stephane Cazeau (pronounced ‘kazoo’) joins Ronan, Zebart and junior Benson Jean-Baptise.

* * *

So does Byars like what he sees so far?

“Always hard to answer that question when we’ve had three practices this week and two have been bad,” he said.

“I’m liking the evolution right now. We’re coming around. I don’t think we’re going to be quite where I want us next Friday night. We’ll be close.

“But I want us to build like we did last year — a crescendo. If we’re peaking in September, something’s wrong. Some teams do peak in September. They know who they are.

“I want to peak in late October, November and keep going on into December. That’s when I want us to hit our full stride.”

* * *

Scary moment at the end of practice: Junior safety Lamar Coney was taken to the hospital with breathing trouble. Coney, 17, had an episode of dehydration last week at home, but the coaching staff was unaware of Coney’s condition. “Kids don’t communicate sometimes,” said Byars. “If we don’t know, we don’t know.”

* * *

Injury report: Aside from Byars, the Bobcats are without Sean Ronan, who tweaked his left knee in practice on Monday. He didn’t dress for Tuesday or Wednesday’s practices.

* * *

Boca will miss rising sophomore Aaron Gordon, who transferred to a school in New York.

Starting at nose guard as a freshman, the 6-2, 250-pounder preserved the Bobcats’ win over Seminole Ridge last year.

“It was 29-27, they go for 2, and he stuffs it right out. Game over,” said Byars. “I was looking forward to working with him.”

Byars said he loves it when a freshman earns a spot.

“Biggest mistake I see high school coaches make is anointing kids,” he said. “They get a sense of entitlement, and it’s hard to coach that.”

“When I was a freshman in high school, there was that entitlement mentality. I was a big kid, 180 pounds, and coaches are telling me ‘You’re the future.’

“What about right now? If I’m good enough to play against the dudes in practice, and handle my own, there’s no hope for me? I’m just automatically relegated to the freshman team?

“Nah. I don’t agree with that. You got a guy that can play up, let him play.”

* * *

Recruiting trail: Lewis has no official offers, but Byars said “multiple MAC schools are interested in him, as well as FIU. I’m sure Central Florida’s going to come around too before it’s all said and done.”

Same with Ronan, who is “real close to getting an offer from Penn. Columbia, Dartmouth and Princeton are high on him, as well as some other schools.”

Neither have taken official visits, but Byars expects they will during the season.

Kicker David Bicknell has an offer from Minnesota, and is drawing Ivy League interest, said Byars. Bicknell scored a 29 on his ACT.

Zebart and Cazeau are also starting to attract attention, said Byars.

* * *

Byars said he wouldn’t blame any of today’s senior stars for taking their time with recruiting.

A running back/linebacker at Roth High School in Dayton, Ohio, Byars gave no hints before committing Ohio State, five days before Signing Day 1982.

“If I said, ‘I’m going to Ohio State,’ Pittsburgh, Cincy, they don’t want me to go visit them. And you’ve only got one time in your life to be wined and dined,” he said.

‘How big a steak you want? How big a steak you got?’ That was a different time. I had to take advantage of that, so I wasn’t going to commit. I haven’t had my butt kissed like that since.

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with early commits, that’s fine. But dude, take your visits.

“Shoot, I was trying to go to Hawaii on one of my visits,” he joked. “I ain’t ever been to Hawaii!”

For updates from area practices, and more news and analysis, follow Matt Porter on Twitter @mattyports.