Football: Without a uniform, Byham still just a student

By Jay Huerbin

Three years ago, tight end Nate Byham — the top-ranked high school recruit at his position —… Three years ago, tight end Nate Byham — the top-ranked high school recruit at his position — could have played college football at Oklahoma University, University of Miami or the University of Southern California.

But he chose Pitt.

Now a senior, who is coming off a first team All-Big East selection last year, Byham said he isn’t surprised he’s wearing a blue and gold uniform.

But going away from home wasn’t what he wanted.

“It was a real simple decision for me,” he said about his college choice. “It didn’t take much thought.”

That’s because Byham, who grew up roughly 85 miles north of Pittsburgh in Franklin, didn’t want to leave the person who raised him — his grandfather.

“The first reason was because of my grandfather and, two, education was a big thing for him — making sure I got a good education,” Byham said. “And I couldn’t go wrong with the University of Pittsburgh.”

As the nation’s top tight end recruit, Byham didn’t take long to make an impact on the football field. He lettered as a true freshman and played in 11 games during the 2006 season.

But as he enters his final season with Pitt, Byham is having as much fun on the field as he does off. And to people who know him, that’s no surprise.

“Nate’s got great character,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “He does the right things off the field, he does the right things in the classroom.”

Wannstedt’s words were echoed by another one of Byham’s coaches, tight end coach Brian Angelichio, who said Byham’s “passionate, great work ethic” lead to his success as a student and player.

“It’s a big year for him in that it’s his senior year,” Angelichio said. “I know he’s the kind of kid that will lead by example with his performance on the field.”

Like his fans, Byham is still a student who wants to have fun when he isn’t in class.

“I usually just hang out with my girlfriend or play video games,” he said. “I just enjoy the whole thing. I love to have a good time.”

Byham said he lived in Sutherland Hall during his freshman year before moving into Bouquet Gardens the next year. He ventured off campus his junior year to live in the Mount Washington neighborhood with some friends from Duquesne University but said he wanted to return to Oakland for his senior year.

Now living in South Oakland, Byham said he enjoys the college atmosphere that Pitt offers.

“A lot of people might not think of Oakland as a college campus, but it’s very mixed,” he said. “Once you get off campus, it’s very cultural.”

Like a lot of Pitt fans, Byham attends basketball games and said he knows a lot of the players. He goes to every game and was part of the Oakland Zoo for “five or six games” last year.

But he said he doesn’t just enjoy Pitt sports — he enjoys Pittsburgh sports.

“I grew up a Pens fan and a Steelers fan,” he said. “It was a good year.”

Just as the Penguins and Steelers are coming off championship-winning seasons, Byham has his eyes set on seeing the Panthers succeed this year.

A Pitt football championship would mean a lot to the fans and Byham, who said his best moment as a player occured three years ago.

“My greatest moment on the field was my freshman year, when I scored the opening touchdown against West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl,” he said.

Pitt jumped out to a 7-0 lead in that game but was eventually overwhelmed by a more physical Mountaineers team.

A year later, Byham would have to watch from the sidelines because of an injury as the Panthers got revenge and upset then-ranked No. 2 West Virginia in the final game of the season — ending the Mountaineers’ chances of heading to the BCS Championship game.

But while the highlight of his college life on the field happened as a freshman, Byham — a communication major — said his best moment as a student is yet to come.

“It will be at the end of the next semester when I get my college degree,” he said. “To graduate, have my degree and play football at the next level.”

Just because he’s looking forward to graduation and showing his grandfather his degree doesn’t mean he isn’t ready for his final season as a Panther.

“I’m just focusing on winning games here [at Pitt],” he said.