Solomon Byrd, a surprise USC defensive playmaker, waited years for his chance to shine

Southern California defensive lineman Solomon Byrd (51) in action against Fresno State
USC defensive lineman Solomon Byrd has emerged over the past two games as the breakout pass rusher the Trojans defense desperately needed.
(John McCoy / Associated Press)

Long before his moment finally arrived, Solomon Byrd was already fed up with waiting.

He was frustrated with the recruiting process. He wasn’t getting the attention he expected. A few schools, such as Fresno State and San Diego State, had shown interest but things never materialized. He thought other schools wouldn’t bother coming out to the desert, where Byrd starred at Palmdale Knight High, not a football power.

He took it personally. The summer before his senior season, Byrd came to USC for a Rising Stars camp and seethed as he compared himself to other top-billed prospects in attendance.

“I really wanted to get to the next level,” Byrd said. “These guys who had stars and whatever, I was playing better than them. But no offer for me.”


The offer Byrd wanted would come years later, leading him to USC, where he has emerged over the past two games as the breakout pass rusher the USC defense so desperately needed. After opening the season third on the depth chart — and playing just five snaps in his Trojan debut — Byrd is now tied for second in the Pac-12 with three sacks.

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With Romello Height still nursing a shoulder injury, more opportunity awaits. USC coach Lincoln Riley recently held Byrd up as an “example of what we’re trying to build.” Alex Grinch, the Trojans’ defensive coordinator, called him “the poster child” for USC’s defensive mindset.

He wasn’t always in that head space. After receiving few college offers, Byrd ended up at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

“I was pretty immature at the time,” Byrd said.

Still, AJ Cooper saw potential. As the Wyoming defensive line coach, Cooper help set Byrd on a different path.

“He was really hard on me,” Byrd recalls.

Wyoming defensive end Solomon Byrd can't quite reach Boise State quarterback Chase Cord on Nov. 9, 2019.
(Steve Conner / Associated Press)

It was exactly what he needed. Cooper, who now works at Washington State, pushed Byrd in ways he hadn’t been pushed before. He challenged Byrd to ignore everything outside of his control.


The message stuck.

“He kind of made me realize why I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” Byrd said. “I think that’s where it hit me, looking inward at myself and knowing that it’s not about everything else. I have to make sure I’m all the way right, before I get any opportunity.”

So Byrd set out to right himself.

It didn’t take long. As a redshirt freshman, Byrd got 6½ sacks, emerging as one of the best young pass rushers in the Mountain West Conference. Obstacles would obscure his opportunities from there. First, it was COVID-19, which caused him to sit out 2020. Then, a shoulder injury cut his 2021 season to just eight games. He still managed 3½ sacks.

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Byrd jokes that the cold of Wyoming hardened his exterior and helped him grow up. But after three years in Laramie, he wondered if there might be more out there. So, he entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal. Within two weeks, USC reached out.

But that initial interest dried up. He was told Riley still had to evaluate the roster. Byrd figured they were just stringing him along.

“But they really did [evaluate the roster],” Byrd said. “A lot of guys left in the spring.”

Already committed to Georgia Tech, Byrd flipped to USC. That summer, he arrived in Los Angeles a bit out of shape, delaying his impact.


“He’s really had an impact for us. We’re dying to find those playmakers.”

— USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch on Solomon Byrd

USC defensive lineman Solomon Byrd celebrates after recovering a fumble by Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

“It was hard, not gonna lie,” Byrd said. “I came from Wyoming, and I was a starter and a big name up there. When I came down here, there was a lot of talent.”

But this time, Byrd knew how to make the best of it. He put his head down and worked through the frustration. He tried not to think too far into the future. He talked it through with his wife, Taysia. He turned to teammate Nick Figueroa, who told him to be patient because, “Your opportunity will come.”

Byrd didn’t wait long. By Week 2, he was blazing into the Stanford backfield, getting a pair of big-time sacks. The following week, he burst off the edge early in the second half against Fresno State and slammed into quarterback Jake Haener, forcing a key fumble and knocking Haener out of the game.

“Coach Grinch is always talking about opportunities and making the best of them,” linebacker Eric Gentry said. “[Byrd] is really doing that.”


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Grinch added: “He’s really had an impact for us. We’re dying to find those playmakers.”

After USC’s 45-17 win over Fresno State, Riley singled out Byrd’s performance by giving him the game ball, a meaningful memento for a player who for so long had been overlooked.

That’s no longer the case for Byrd. Though, he hasn’t spent much time worrying about that lately.

“I’m just going to work hard and let everything else come as it does.”