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  • Marc Katz

Home is the Place to be: Profile on Keith Byars

They used to call him “Boomer” at Roth High School for the sound he made on defense when he hit opposing running backs.

At six foot two and 225 pounds with often unstoppable speed, he could make quite a sound. Roth is gone now (40 years gone), having given way to Thurgood Marshall High, a new school without much history.

But “Boomer” is back, as passionate as ever about the school where he started on two straight State championship basketball teams (1981-’82) and a State relay team in track. He returns highly decorated as well, having been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2020 (ceremonies were held off until recently because of the pandemic) and in April will go into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in Columbus as it honors the back-to-back State championship teams.

Although he played and lived in some much bigger cities with amenities not found in Dayton, Byars moved back to his roots in 2015, and has not regretted that decision.

His wife, Monica, is also a Dayton native, and a Dunbar grad, and a good reason for his moving back after playing football at Ohio State and 14 years in the NFL. He has a blended family of three children, two with his first wife. He didn’t have to be talked into moving back. He lived for a long time near his first NFL city, Philadelphia, and his second, Miami, where he coached his son’s high school football team in Boca Raton. He didn’t keep long-term residences at his other two NFL stops, New England and New York (Jets). For now, he has a Dayton address, does a radio talk show from here and plays golf when the weather is nice. “You can always come back home,” Boomer boomed during a recent conversation. “Home is always home. Even when I didn’t live in Dayton, I used to come back home a lot.

“I was used to the four seasons. Florida fans would say, ‘Home? You can always go back (to visit).’ It’s not a problem. There’s no perfect place to live, as far as weather goes.”

From the time he was a little boy, and you could hardly ever have called Keith Byars little, he loved to play sports, and he wasn’t even sure football was his best one. In addition to his basketball and track prowess, he played on a State championship Little League team that beat a Bernie Kosar team in a game saved by his late, diving centerfield catch.

It was his move from Trotwood to Roth in high school in 1979 that caused him (and others) the most grief since his home with parents Reggie and Margaret was just inside the Trotwood border.

The problem was, Keith thought he would have a better chance of playing big time college athletics leading to the pros, than he would have staying at Trotwood. He transferred, and although there was some complaining, he showed up the first day of Roth practices leading into the 1979 season.

“He was just another football player,” said then Roth coach Tom Montgomery, reminiscing as Byars began to have success at Ohio State. “He just showed up one day on the practice field and said he had enrolled at Roth. He was a sophomore, and when you go into a season, you don’t go in thinking you’re going to win with any sophomore.”

Byars told Montgomery he was a tight end and a linebacker, so the coach played along, for a short while.

“He’s lefthanded,” Montgomery said years ago. “We were playing Meadowdale in a reserve game and he scooped up a fumble with his right hand and went 40 yards with it, never changing hands.“ I said, ‘Whoops!”

If there was any animosity from Trotwood folks, or overt racism from the general community, Byars said he didn’t find it abusive. “I’ve never had a problem being accepted in any neighborhood in Dayton,” Byars said. “I’m not naïve. It’s a world problem. And I live in the city.”

Refusing to be drawn into a conversation about racism, he did say it bothered him that more athletes from Roth and other predominately Black schools did not seem to get the same athletic opportunities as Whites locally.

Dayton had a productive basketball pipeline to Alter and Wright State in the early stages of its athletic department and found most of its Black players at area schools.

Ohio State was not going to pass, though, and featured a top tier football team that could always use a running back.

He became an All-American as a junior, winning the Big Ten’s player of the year award and finishing second, unfortunately, to Doug Flutie’s miracle pass in the 1984 Heisman Trophy voting.

A clear favorite for the game’s top trophy as a senior, Byars broke a bone in his foot in pre-season workouts, played sparingly, yet still managed to be a first-round draft choice of the Eagles when the season ended.

During his pro years, he made a Pro Bowl and played in a Super Bowl, and he keeps tabs with his past, with visits to most of the cities in his past.

“I’m always going to be affiliated with sports teams,” Byars said. He’s always going to be affiliated with Dayton, too.

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