Bills safety Jairus Byrd knew he was fortunate to have a strong relationship with his father at the age of 11. With his dad, Gill Byrd, a former Pro Bowl cornerback for the San Diego Chargers coaching his Pop Warner football team, Jairus saw the value of his father's presence at every practice and every game. A decade later Jairus achieved Pro Bowl status in the NFL just like his dad. Now they want to help foster the father-son bond in others through their "Legacy Experience" program.
The Byrd's program kicked off on June 9th, just a week before Father's Day, with events both in Rochester and Buffalo for fathers and sons eager to develop the same bond the Byrds share.
"We had a barbecue for the two locations, but it was really just an initiation about what the program was and what they signed up for," said Jairus Byrd. "We did have a little break out session where I talked to the kids and he talked to the fathers. And we just spoke about what was going on and what the year-long program was about."
"It just entails what we leave behind as parents to our children," said Gill Byrd. "For obvious reasons the fact that I played in the National Football League and Jairus is now playing in the National Football League, is one indicator of why we named it Legacy.
"The purpose is to establish a legacy between fathers and sons using the fundamental principles of football. Teaching life lessons like discipline, mentoring and trust that can be carried on long after the experience is over."
Growing up in Missouri, Byrd saw other classmates and teammates that did not have a strong relationship with their father. That coupled with his far more fortunate situation compelled him to move forward with this initiative.
"I saw guys that looked to other people for that kind of relationship rather than having it at home," said Jairus. "A lot of times when you're looking to someone as your peer or friend for that void, you kind of miss a lot of things because they don't know what to tell you. They haven't been there. So a lot of times you see them go down the wrong path."
The Byrds are looking to reverse that trend.
"We present the challenge from both ends," said Jairus. "What being an example as a father is and for kids how to submit to your father's authority when you're under their household and learn to respect them and do the things that they need to do and be receptive to what's being taught."
By all accounts the welcoming event for the program went well with the Byrds encouraged that they have some fathers and sons committed to improving their relationships.
"A lot of people were just kind of surprised at just how easygoing we were," said Jairus. "I don't know what they expected us to be like, but I played games with them and hung out with them and I think that we got a few emails back saying they really appreciated that. They liked that we were very personable. I think they linked the foundation of what we're putting down and the courses they can take if they stay with the program and how the phases progress."
During the season the Byrds will be writing blogs and holding live chats together. They'll also get those enrolled involved with coming to games and other prizes they can win for their commitment.
"Ultimately, it'll end with a football camp, so the people that make it through the program will end up in a private football camp getting some coaching from him and then me as well," said Jairus. "So it'll kind of work like that. We're not looking for numbers, so it'll be an intimate small group of guys going through drills and learning about the details of the game."
"It's not just football," said the elder Byrd. "It's what happens off the field. How are fathers developing fathers for the future? How are they developing their young men, their children to be young adults?
"The lessons that all these kids will learn and are learning being in sports with discipline, hard work and overcoming adversity are life lessons that we want to carry on. It focuses on what we leave behind as parents to our children."
And the Byrds hope they can assist fathers and sons in developing a relationship legacy that lasts well beyond their years.
"Legacy to me is how people remember you," said Jairus. "The different pieces you leave behind, your character traits, things you pass on generation to generation."