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Senior Tributes: P.J. Byers

Mike Pettigno

P.J. Byers finished his college career with one carry for one yard, yet he will always be a heroic figure to Penn State fans. The run-on fullback always had aspirations of playing college football. However, the big time programs did not show much interest because of his lack of size after graduating from Penn-Trafford High School in 2003. This helped him to realize a higher calling.

"I felt a small little patriotic spark inside me and I just wanted to serve my country," he said.

Byers was placed in the Navy's delayed-entry program for a year. He attended Marietta College, a Division III school in Ohio, where he participated in football and track.

In the spring of 2004, he was assigned to boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill. But his hopes of becoming a member of the elite SEAL unit quickly vanished.

"My eyes didn't pass the test," he said. "You have to have near-perfect vision, and I didn't."

Even so, the Navy allowed Byers to train in a different operational program, diving.

After a year of training in Connecticut and Panama City, Fla., he was assigned to the Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Hawaii.

"That's pretty much where diving started -- in Pearl Harbor -- so it was a neat place to be and a great experience," Byers said. He has a family connection to the USS Arizona, one of the ships hit in the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"My grandfather was actually on the [battleship] USS Arizona -- not when it was attacked -- and I got to see the memorial there. It still is quite a place, 60 years later."

Byers spent three years at Pearl Harbor, where he played football in the Marine Corps League. His primary diving duties included repairing ships and submarines. He had a few scary moments underwater.

"I remember one time we were doing a night dive, and I looked over, and I swear there was a 10-foot wingspan of a stingray," Byers said. "It scared me to death because I had never seen anything that big before. I just grabbed onto the propeller and closed my eyes. When I opened them, the stingray was gone."

Byers eventually moved to the Navy base in San Diego, where he was stationed for more than two years. He searched for underwater mines, took part in diving demolitions using explosives and helped train dolphins to locate mines.

Byers eventually was able to achieve his dream of becoming a Penn State Nittany Lion, earning a spot as a walk-on as a reserve fullback for the 2010-2012 seasons. Byers became one of the leaders in the locker room thanks to his work ethic and incredible life experiences. He was able to do something that so many of us can only dream about- lead the team out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel to the roar of 100,000+ fans.

Thank you for your service to our team, P.J. More importantly, thank you for your service for our country.

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