Virginia Union’s Jada Byers wins Willie Lanier Award

Courtesy of Virginia Union Athletics

Virginia Union University’s Jada Byers has been named the winner of the 2022 Willie Lanier Award, it was announced on Saturday, December 10.

The Lanier Award is given to the top football player at the Division II, III or NAIA level in Virginia and is named after the Richmond native who is in the National Football League Hall of Fame.

Byers’ signature moment came when he rushed for a VUU-record 319 yards, on just 32 carries, in Virginia Union’s road conquest of second-ranked and four-time national champion Valdosta State. He scored four touchdowns, three running and one receiving.

“I saw a look in his eyes in the Valdosta game,” Panthers coach Alvin Parker said.

Byers, a Virginia Union sophomore and the second Panther to win the Lanier (quarterback Shawheem Dowdy in 2015), also faces a daunting challenge: authoring another landmark college season.

Standing only 5-foot-7 and weighing around 180 pounds, he rushed for more yards this season, 1,920, than any NCAA player, regardless of division. He averaged an exceptional 6.8 yards per carry and 174.6 yards per game as the Panthers reached the Division II playoffs.

“I wouldn’t say I saw this exact kind of season coming,” Byers said, “but I saw something close to it, because I always tell myself: I have to do better. … I just go back and look at all the film and everything I did wrong. I never go look at all the good things I did.”

There was plenty to like about Byers’ freshman season. He rushed for 910 yards, twice surpassing 200 yards in a game, and was voted the CIAA’s top rookie.

Parker said he knew Byers would be “special.” Blessed with all the requisite tools, he was clearly talented, and South Jersey coaches, from youth leagues to high school, endorsed him.

And while Division I schools shied away because of Byers’ size, Parker never paused.

“I’m in love with just good players,” Parker said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter system.”

Like many smaller athletes, Byers turns others’ doubts into fuel.

“I came up with a slogan: BLG,” he said. “Big Little Guy. I’m going to get shirts made.”

Does the BLG have a big heart?

“Yes, sir,” Byers said. “The biggest heart of them all.”

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