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Titans Safety Kevin Byard Thankful for Life Lessons at M.L. King High School (Ga.), as the School Renames Its Athletic Facilities in His Honor


NASHVILLE – Kevin Byard was just 15 years old when he first arrived at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Lithonia, Georgia.

Byard, born in Philadelphia, was the new kid on campus, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound football player who was getting used to a new environment, and a much bigger student body.

Byard's mother, you see, moved the family to Georgia after a divorce. She wanted to give her children an opportunity to succeed, and she worked long hours to make it happen.

A young Kevin Byard, meanwhile, had no choice but to adapt, and fit in.

"It was a big adjustment, coming from up North and moving down South," said Byard, who was in the ninth grade at the time. "It was a cultural difference, too. I guess I was just a young kid trying to make a name for himself.

"Football was a sanctuary and an outlet for me."

Byard, heading into his seventh NFL season, made a name for himself.

On Friday, the school will rename its updated athletic facilities, including the gymnasium and weight room, in Byard's honor during a special ceremony. Byard will return to the campus with his wife, Clarke, the couple's two kids, his mother, siblings, and some high school teammates.

The two-time Pro Bowler with the Titans who was the team's Community Man of the Year in 2020, Byard expects it to be an emotional day.

"It just kind of takes me back, how far I've come, the things I was able to accomplish at MLK," Byard said on Thursday. "I never imagined I'd one day have my name on the gymnasium at the school. It will be an emotional day for me, and it's a blessing for sure."

Byard, who went on to star at Middle Tennessee State University, said he hopes he can serve as an inspiration to others at the school.

"I just want the kids to be inspired, and motivated," he said. "I want those kids to say, "Hey, he came to the same high school, he walked these same hallways. He worked hard to accomplish his dreams, and made it happen.' Whether you want to be a doctor, lawyer, knowing that a guy like me, who had big goals, he was able to accomplish that at that school.

"When kids are taking gym class years from now and they see my name up there, they might have to Google my name and say, 'Who is this guy?' I want them to think, 'Hey this guy went and accomplished all his goals coming from this school.' Hopefully that will inspire kids and make them say, 'Hey, he accomplished his goals. I can do the same."


Byard, rated a two-star prospect coming out of M.L. King in 2011, was a left-handed quarterback at the school as a sophomore before eventually transitioning to a two-way player who played receiver on offense and in the secondary and at linebacker on defense while wearing No.17.

Byard said he learned plenty of lessons on the field, and in the hallways. In Philadelphia, Byard went a charter school with roughly 750 students. Roughly 2,500 to 3,000 students were at M.L. King when he arrived.

Looking back, Byard gives a lot of credit to high school coach Corey Jarvis. Byard said Jarvis served as a father figure to many of the kids at M.L. King.

"He was a disciplinarian," Byard said. "He had a rule where you had to pull you pants up, and tuck your shirt in. If he ever saw you walking down the hallway, and your shirt wasn't tucked in or your pants weren't pulled up, he would make you drop and do 50 push-ups on the spot.

"You'd be at your locker chatting with friends and he'd point at the ground, and you'd have to do push-ups. It was kind of embarrassing, but I think those little things he did for us, they meant a lot to me and to all of us."

On Friday, Byard will walk those same hallways as a thankful adult.

After his Pro Bowl season in 2017, Byard gave back to M.L. King after matching an NFL grant that helped the school update its weight room and other areas of the athletics facilities.

In 2020, he was able to give his mom, Artina Stanley, her forever home in 2020 for all she did for him and his four siblings as a single working mother.

On Friday, the staff and M.L. King family will recognize Byard for his generosity, while remembering the mark he made on the school by renaming the facilities in his name.

"MLK, that's probably one of the more influential places that turned me into the person I am today," Byard said. "Obviously, it's a huge honor, and I'm very thankful. It's pretty awesome."

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