Four years and 60 pounds ago, Henry Byrd ’23 tap danced.
Byrd was a three-sport athlete when he performed in his Nashville, Tennessee, high school’s 2018 spring show. Byrd took Dance for Athletes 1 to fulfill The Ensworth School’s art requirement and liked tap so much that he signed up for Dance for Athletes 2. Beyond that, he had to take an honors dance class to continue.
“It was just me and four of the competitive dancers at my school in the big concert doing a routine to ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’” Byrd said. “It was a lot of fun, I really loved doing it.”
Tap may give Byrd, an NFL draft prospect, an edge as he strives to go pro. He has shaped himself into a 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive tackle with still-fast-stepping feet.
“I feel like it’s got a decent crossover for football,” said Byrd, who pointed to his balance, footspeed, and footwork as some of his greatest strengths. “A lot of it is cross training with lacrosse and basketball and playing a million sports, but I think a big part of it is learning that control and learning that timing through tap dancing. It really helped me.”
Byrd weighed 250 pounds as he closed his scholastic athletic career as a four-year starter on Ensworth’s lacrosse team. He also played three years of basketball, though he took off his junior year to bulk up — after teammate and future NBA lottery pick James Wiseman dunked on him at practice. “I decided basketball wasn’t my sport,” Byrd quipped.
Byrd had football offers from two service academies but chose Princeton over two other Ivy League schools and a host of Patriot League programs. Byrd loved the academic prestige of Princeton and its team’s fast-paced offense that caters to lighter, faster linemen like himself.
Most freshmen struggle with adjusting to college, said Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90. “For Henry, nothing fazes him. He’s so mature, so rock solid. He’s a quick learner and he’s very smart. Technically, he was just ahead of the curve.”
Mentored by George Attea ’19 and Reily Radosevich ’22, Byrd played every game and moved into the starting lineup for the final game of his first year after Radosevich tore his ACL in the Tigers’ unbeaten 2018 season.
“For Henry, nothing fazes him. He’s so mature, so rock solid. He’s a quick learner and he’s very smart. Technically, he was just ahead of the curve.” — Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90
His confidence soared after winning the Donald B. Lourie Award as Princeton’s top offensive freshman in 2018, and a new outlook emerged when Andrew Aurich ’06 offered him another carrot. The then-offensive line coach told Byrd he had NFL potential. “I decided right then and there, absolutely I want this,” Byrd said.
Byrd has built size and strength each year, not in one big jump, but in steady increments that suggest they will continue.
“He has long arms,” said Surace, a former Tigers center who coached in the NFL. “He has the ability and feet to play tackle. We’ve never played him anywhere else, but he has the intelligence to play anywhere, and I tell the scouts that.”
Byrd has sports interest outside of his NFL dreams. While taking off the spring 2022 semester, Byrd worked as PA announcer for Ensworth basketball, baseball, and lacrosse games. He could follow the lead of Ross Tucker ’01, the former NFL lineman who has become a popular podcaster and announcer.
“I think that would be my ultimate goal,” Byrd said. “That’s something that I would really love doing just because I love talking about sports and football and the stories associated with it.”