For the Heidelberg University football team, fraternal bonds are forged in the weight room, on the practice field, on the game field, in the dining hall and in the classroom.
But for three Heidelberg University student-athletes, the bonds reach far beyond the gridiron. Matt, Shane and Billy Byrne, brothers from Euclid, are members of the Heidelberg football team which is off to its best start in 40 years.
Matt, the second oldest of six children in the Byrne family, chose to attend Heidelberg because of an instant comfort level he felt on campus.
“I knew a couple players that were here already,” said Matt, an offensive lineman. “They had great things to say about the campus and the coaches. When I visited, it was an immediate feeling.”
Shane, a grade behind Matt in school, was recruited by several schools, but ultimately, family ties brought him to Tiffin.
“I wanted to play with Matt,” said Shane, a linebacker. “Heidelberg had everything that I wanted, both academically and athletically.”
Two years later, Billy came to the same conclusion as Shane.
“It’s great for our mom, Jackie, to be able to come to one game and see all of us,” said Billy, who plays defensive back. “I probably had the easiest choice out of the three of us.”
For head coach Mike Hallett, the adage “You don’t recruit the player, you recruit the family” certainly came to fruition.
“We are really fortunate to have the Byrne brothers on the team,” said Hallett. “They are such wonderful young men and are talented athletes. Our program has benefitted greatly from having the Byrnes brothers around.”
For Matt, Shane and Billy, football has always been a part of their lives. Their father, Bill, passed away 5 years ago.
“Our dad was the biggest Cleveland Browns fan,” said Shane. “He never missed a Browns game and never missed one of our games. He loved watching us play football.”
Less than two years after her husband’s passing, Jackie dropped Matt off for his first year at Heidelberg.
“I don’t know how she does it,” said Hallett. “Jackie is such a blessing to have around our program. She epitomizes the type of parent we want in the Heidelberg football family.”
Jackie attends virtually every game, even though she only started driving on the freeway a few years ago.
Matt, Shane and Billy are three of seven former Euclid High School students on the roster. Former Heidelberg standouts Tony Gordon and Mike Preston are among the Panthers who have played for the Student Princes.
“Those Euclid guys have played a lot of football together,” said Hallett. “I think it helps with their comfort level. They see older guys come here and enjoy success. It shows that our recruiting promises have come true.”
One of the benefits of brotherhood is constant encouragement and support. Because of their left knees, roommates Shane and Matt have needed that support to get through tough injuries.
Shane suffered a torn ACL on the final day of training camp last year and missed the entire season. Matt injured his MCL in practice before the second game of this year and will miss the remainder of the year.
“It’s awful,” said Matt, who has received clearance to resume light exercise. “I hate watching practice because I want to get back out there. Shane and Billy, along with the other guys on the team, have done a good job with helping me keep my head up.”
Matt will receive a medical redshirt, which will allow him to come back and compete next season.
Hallett and his coaching staff have enjoyed coaching Matt, Shane and Billy.
“It’s been fun to watch them mature as young men,” said Hallett. “Usually we only get a four-year window within which to interact with families. Because these guys are staggered, we’ll get to see Jackie and the rest of the family for close to eight years.”