For Chase Byrum, playing running back for the Monroe High football team means a lot.
The 5-foot-9, 197-pound senior is the fourth person in his family to star in the Monroe backfield after his father, Tony, a 1972 Monroe graduate; his oldest brother, Ryan, a 1999 graduate; and his other brother, Dion, a 2001 graduate.
Monroe football coach Johnny Sowell also started at the position during his time playing for the Redhawks, back when Tony Byrum was the team’s defensive coordinator.
“It’s a great feeling to follow in the footsteps of my dad and brothers and coach Sowell as a running back here,” Chase Byrum said. “They all experienced it and have helped me become a successful player. While they don’t tell me how to run, they have contributed to the type of back I am today.”
Sowell says Chase Byrum has lived up to a great tradition of Monroe running backs that includes former Carolina Panther Richard Huntley; former Carolina Panther Dion Byrum; Albert Ashcraft of South Carolina/Western Carolina universities; Tre’Shun Wynn of UNC Charlotte; and Julius Stradford.
“We have been blessed to have a lot of great talent at running back here through the years, and Chase is another player in that tradition,” said Sowell, who is in his 11th year as the head coach after spending 18 years as an assistant. “But his talent is a little different because he reads his blocks, stays with his block and is great in between the tackles. A lot of our great backs have done a lot just with their own talents running all over.
“We call Chase ‘the little bowling ball’ because he always going right at people.”
Chase Byrum, 18, has played running back since he started playing football in fifth grade in the Sun Valley midget league. He said he always been a “north-south runner” and never liked going “east-west.”
He has rushed for 3,575 yards and 46 touchdowns in the past two-plus seasons, including 1,144 yards and 11 scores in eight games so far this season.
Byrum has carried the load in the Redhawk backfield, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 143 yards per game despite being the main focus of opposing defenses each game.
The Monroe senior tailback has 100-plus yards in every game but one this season, tallying 91 yards and two touchdowns against Charlotte Christian. His best performance was 225 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-47 loss to rival Sun Valley.
Byrum has had to help lead a younger team that had only six starters back from 2013, when Monroe was the 2AA state runner-up.
“I’ve enjoyed being that go-to guy in the backfield,” said Byrum, who split time with Stradford and Wynn last year. “I’ve been waiting on that opportunity, and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Byrum and Sowell give credit to the offensive line, which has seven guys rotating regularly: seniors Blake Brooks, Malik Covington, Dalin Lee and Lee Staton; juniors Nick Ashcraft and NeQuan Hailey; and sophomore Dashawn Goings.
Right now, Monroe (4-4, 1-1, through Oct. 23) is focused on finishing strong and possibly winning another Rocky River Conference title. The team has won 20 of its past 21 league games dating back to 2010.
The Redhawks’ first RRC loss in more than three seasons came earlier this month in a 10-7 defeat to Mount Pleasant.
That loss combined with tight losses to Weddington (28-20), Sun Valley (48-47) and Charlotte Christian (35-27) has the Redhawks in an unfamiliar position at this point in the season, but Byrum is confident they can turn things around.
“We’ve had a lot of tough, close losses this year,” Byrum said. “We are just going to use that as motivation the rest of the way to turn those into wins. I have a good feeling about this season.”
Byrum also wants a chance to play college football like his father and brothers. Tony played at Bowie State, Ryan at N.C. Central and Dion at Ohio.
He has interest from smaller Division I schools and several Division II programs, according to Sowell, who says “whoever gets Byrum will be getting a steal.”
“I’ve always wanted to play college football,” Chase Byrum said. “The fact that my dad and brothers did it motivates me even more to get there, too.”
Tony Byrum says his three sons have always had a sibling rivalry.
“To see your kids do as well as you did or even better at the same school has been great,” he said. “Each one of (my sons) has tried to top the next one. They’ve always had the competition thing going on.”