ORLANDO, Fla. –** Kevin Byard’s phone rang on Sunday night, and he didn’t recognize the number.
The Titans safety then did something he usually doesn’t do – he answered.
“I never answer unknown numbers. Never,” Byard said with a smile. “I don’t know why, but I did this time. And it was (GM) Jon Robinson on the other end. He told me I got in (the Pro Bowl). I was surprised. At that point, I wasn’t expecting it. But it’s pretty cool. I’m glad I answered.”
Byard, named All-Pro after tying for the NFL lead with eight interceptions in 2017, got the call to the Pro Bowl after initially being named as one of the alternates. After leading all free safeties in Pro Bowl voting by fans, Byard wasn’t on the team after the final voting, which included players and coaches.
But his dream came true, and when he took the field here on Wednesday, it really hit him.
“It is such a blessing to be out here with the guys, in Orlando, surrounded by the best players in the game,” Byard said. “I am definitely going to have time while I am down here to reflect on it all, the season and my career and how fortunate I have been. It’s a blessing.”
On Wednesday, Byard soaked it all in.
A third-round pick by the Titans in 2016 out of MTSU, Byard covered Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in AFC practice, and mingled with the league’s best defenders. He’s taking advantage of his time around his peers in other settings as well.
“I was sitting on the bus next to Von Miller,” Byard said of the Broncos linebacker. “We were chopping it up just a little bit talking about
him hunting and things like that. Everybody has been pretty cool. It is not one of those deals like you’re a first-year guy, and the older guys aren’t showing you any love. Everyone has been cool and receptive.
“I am talking to everybody, from every position group. Even just to talk to the guys about their training regiment, and how they like to train in the offseason. I am really just trying to pick the brain of everybody.”
Fellow Pro Bowlers have been complimentary of his game.
“They are telling me I got snubbed, I should’ve gotten in the first time,” Byard said. “For those guys to tell me that I have a bright career ahead of me, it’s cool. I just have to keep grinding and keep getting interceptions.”
Byard’s family is flocking to the city this week, from his mother, brothers and sisters from Atlanta to his father and cousins from Philadelphia.
His phone has been buzzing, with texts and calls.
“The support I have had all years from family and friends has been amazing,” Byard said. “Things have finally come through for me. No one can stop what God has planned for you, and me getting to the Pro Bowl just kind of solidifies that.”
Byard tallied 87 tackles in 2017, along with the eight interceptions and 18 passes defensed in 2017. He tied with Detroit’s Darius Slay for the NFL-lead in interceptions, but Byard’s two fumble recoveries and eight picks combined made him second to none in takeaways. Byard had three interceptions in a game at Cleveland, and had a pair of two-interception games (vs. Baltimore and Jacksonville).
Byard, one of six Titans here at the Pro Bowl, said he’s enjoyed being around his teammates. The six have bonded even more during an offseason that’s included a coaching change.
“It’s great he’s here,” Titans tackle Taylor Lewan said of Byard. “That was a snub if I’ve ever seen one. That guy has done some great things. He’s a ball hog and he deserves to be here.”
After practice on Wednesday, Byard attended a Play 60/Special Olympics event for Pro Bowlers.
He plans to hit other functions this week, and of course, the parks. Walt Disney World and Hollywood Studios are on his list. At the end of the week, he’ll suit up wearing his helmet with the Titans logo.
“This is my first Pro Bowl, so I am trying to soak everything up,” Byard said. “Hopefully it is not my last Pro Bowl. I’m going to keep working so I can keep getting better and keep getting back. But for now, I am going to soak everything up.”