Former Mountie played for Bielema

By: Paul Nielsen
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
New Orleans Saints linebacker Lawrence Wilson, left, breaks up a pass intended for tight end Jake Byrne (82) during NFL football training camp in Metairie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Photo by The Associated Press
New Orleans Saints linebacker Lawrence Wilson, left, breaks up a pass intended for tight end Jake Byrne (82) during NFL football training camp in Metairie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

— When Bret Bielema touched down Tuesday night at Drake Field in Fayetteville, it wasn’t the first time Arkansas’ new football coach had been to Northwest Arkansas.

The former Wisconsin coach came to the area back in 2007 to recruit Rogers tight end Jake Byrne. Byrne had met Bielema the previous year on the Madison campus and already had committed to play at Wisconsin when Bielema came to town.

Byrne followed through on his commitment and ended up starting 21 games at tight end during his final two seasons at Wisconsin.He had 6 receptions for 57 yards and 1 touchdown in 38 games at Wisconsin before signing as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints in 2011, but he didn’t make the Saints’ squad this season.

Byrne said he was “very surprised” when Bielema’s named surfaced as Arkansas’ new coach.

“It’s a great opportunity for him, and I know he will be successful,” said Byrne, who also said he plans to set up a visit with Bielema once his former coach gets settled in at Fayetteville. “He has been successful everywhere he has coached at. I loved him as a coach, and I respect him a lot.”

Byrne described his former coach as an excellent recruiter at Wisconsin and said he expects that trend to continue at Arkansas.

“He is a straight shooter,” Byrne said. “He is a player’s coach that is down-to-earth and honest with you. He is very trusting, and he knows what it takes to get a player to go to school there.”

Byrne was one of two starting tight ends in a Badgers offense that looked to run the football first.

“The ability to run the ball is what we prided ourselves on at Wisconsin,” Byrne said. “We looked for different ways to run the ball. He brought that mind-set that hard work would pay off.

“We came in and we knew what it was going to take to win.”

Sports, Pages 23 on 12/06/2012

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