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June 16, 2011

Famous fathers boost exposure for sons

MORE: Sanders, Pike named U.S. Army All-Americans

Former NFL standout Keith Byars can't help but get a little nostalgic when watching his son - running back Keith Byars II - carry the football.

In a way, it's sort of like watching old tapes of himself.

"He's coached by me, and I coach running backs," the elder Byars said. "So, he's going to take on certain characteristics of mine. He's a physical runner like myself."

A rising senior at Boca Raton (Fla.), Keith Byars II is one of many high-caliber high school football prospects in the Class of 2012 whose father had a distinguished playing career. The group also includes, among others, Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders Jr., both sons of NFL legends.

For the dads of these players, watching their child excel has been, for the most part, a blast.

"I'm just so proud of him," said former NFL offensive lineman Ben Tamburello II, whose son Ben Tamburello III is a center with several scholarship offers.

The kids of these former standouts also seem to be enjoying the ride, insisting the high expectations come more as a blessing than a curse

"I'd actually say it's a good thing," said Barry Sanders Jr. "I haven't found a reason why it's bad."

Keith Byars isn't alone in seeing similarities between father and son. Many of those interviewed are either built the same as their son/dad, wear the identical number or possess a similar bravado.

"You've got to have confidence," said Deion Sanders Jr., a defensive back from Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus. "You have to. You can't go out there thinking, 'What if I do something wrong?' You'll end up doing it. You've got to go out thinking, 'I'm the stuff. Nobody is going to get anything from me.' "

Sounds like something his dad might say, huh?

Here's a closer look at some interesting father-son combos for this recruiting cycle:

Barry Sanders and Barry Sanders Jr.

Barry Sanders is an NFL legend now (he's third all-time in rushing yardage), but in high school he didn't have a ton of options when it came time to pick a college.

Like Father, Like Son
A look at some big-time prospects with well-known football dads:
Barry Sanders Jr., RB, Oklahoma City Heritage Hall
Son of Barry Sanders, former NFL running back, 10-time Pro Bowler

Deion Sanders Jr., ATH, Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus
Son of Deion Sanders, former NFL cornerback, 8-time Pro Bowler

Ray Buchanan Jr., CB, Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge
Son of Ray Buchanan, former NFL defensive back, 2-time All-Pro

Alston Smith, DT, Virginia Beach (Va.) Cox
Son of Bruce Smith, former NFL defensive lineman and NFL Hall of Famer

Keith Byars II, RB, Boca Raton (Fla.)
Son of Keith Byars, former NFL running back/tight end, 8,864 all-purpose yards

Ben Tamburello III, C, Hoover (Ala.) Spain Park
Son of Ben Tamburello II, former center, Auburn All-American and five-year NFL player.

Torey Agee, DE, Opelika (Ala.)
Son of Tommie Agee, former NFL running back, seven years in the league

Zeke Pike, QB, Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights
Son of Mark Pike, former NFL DE-LB, played 173 games for Buffalo

Zach Banner, OL, Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes
Son of Lincoln Kennedy, former NFL offensive lineman and three-time Pro Bowler
"He only had like three schools even looking at him," said his son, Sanders Jr. "It was Iowa State, Oklahoma State and I want to say some small junior college. He wasn't anywhere near in the position I am."

Today, the younger Sanders, a standout running back at Oklahoma City Heritage Hall who has been selected to play in next year's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, has more than 20 offers. Yet, he doesn't seem overly impressed by it.

What does amaze Sanders Jr. is what his father would eventually accomplish.

"Every time I get a chance to watch (his highlights) it's always like, 'Wow!,' " Sanders Jr. said. "Just to think somebody could be that good, and have as much respect as he got is amazing."

The younger Sanders, who is focusing primarily on four schools right now (Alabama, Florida State, Stanford and Oklahoma State, his father's alma mater) is the first to admit dad was the quicker of the two. But he does see some similarities between their respective styles of play.

"More than anything, I'd say it's the vision," Sanders Jr. said.

The elder Sanders lives in Michigan - he has three sons there - but he owns a car dealership in Stillwater, Okla., and visits Oklahoma to see Sanders Jr.

"We're pretty close, but I wouldn't say we talk on the phone a lot," Sanders Jr. said. "Probably a couple times a month."

The father-son duo has taken recruiting trips together to Alabama and Florida State, but they rarely talk football.

"We talk about current events, family, traveling," Sanders Jr. said.

Sanders will take in a few of his son's games this fall and even though he's quiet about the topic, his son knows he's looking forward to watching him in the future.

"Some of his closest friends have said how excited he is," Sanders Jr. said.

Deion Sanders and Deion Sanders Jr.

Back in the late 1980s, long before he would become a household name to football fans, all-world cornerback Deion Sanders wore No. 2 for the Florida State Seminoles. Today, his son, Sanders Jr., dons the same number for his team at Marcus High.

And apparently, that's not all they have in common.

"If you watched both of us, it's like watching the same person," the younger Sanders said.

That, he added, is by design.

"What he knew, he's putting in my head," he said.

A 5-foot-7, 170-pound cornerback/receiver, Sanders Jr. currently holds an offer from Houston. Father and son are doing all they can this summer to boost the player's stock.

"We're hitting the field and hitting the weights hard," Sanders Jr. said. "He's teaching me everything he knows."

With a name like Deion Sanders Jr., it's hard not to stand out. That doesn't bother him, though. And neither does seemingly every opponent wanting a piece of him.

"People are always taking shots at me," Sanders Jr. said. "They try to throw at me so they can say they beat Deion's son. But that's just going to make my stock look better."

Tommie Agee and Torey Agee

When viewing old footage of his father, former Auburn and NFL running back Tommie Agee, one thing stands out to Torey Agee. It isn't his build, his moves or his power.

It is the way he played the game.

"I've watched his games sometimes on TV," Torey said. "He was pretty good. He gave 100 percent every play no matter what was going on."

Whereas the elder Agee was a running back, his son is a menacing defensive end at Opelika (Ala.), who recently added Stanford to his growing list of schools that have offered scholarships. Agee's high school is a mere 8 miles from Auburn, where in the mid-1980s his dad played alongside Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson.

To this day, Auburn fans haven't forgotten his contributions.

"Anywhere in this area if you mention the name Tommie Agee, somebody knows it," Torey said.

According to Torey, father and son are particularly close. They trade stories, poke fun of each other and enjoy one another's company. Dad also is there for support. He never steered his son toward football, but now that he has become a standout, Tommie is trying his best to assist him.

"He always gives me advice," Torey said.

Keith Byars and Keith Byars II

Keith Byars isn't just a parent to Keith Byars II. He's also the head coach of his team. That, said the elder Byars, the runner-up in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1984 to Doug Flutie, earns his son no special treatment.

"I can be a father and a coach," he said. "I told him when I started coaching, 'You'll always be my son; that never changes. But when you step on the football field, you're one of the players on the team. When you do good, I'll be your biggest cheerleader; when you don't, I'll be your biggest critic.' "

As part of his parenting, Byars speaks regularly about the experiences of his playing days and offers his son the occasional pearl of wisdom.

"It never gets old," Byars II said. "He's helped me a ton. He's got so much experience in that sport."

When Keith Byars attended high school in Ohio, he considered several colleges (including Arizona State, Michigan, Pittsburgh and Tennessee) before settling on Ohio State. His son has several offers, perhaps most notably one from Louisville.

Asked if he could objectively evaluate his child as a college prospect, Byars said he could. Then he gave his assessment.

"He's got next-level ability," he said. "He'll be playing on Saturday afternoon on national television. He's a major Division I prospect. That's not just me saying that. He's garnered attention from college coaches and he deserves it."

Mark Pike and Zeke Pike

Before Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights quarterback Zeke Pike committed to Auburn in April, he visited more than two dozen colleges during the previous year.

For that, he can thank his dad, Mark Pike, who played 12 seasons for the Buffalo Bills as a defensive end/linebacker and today is a successful businessman.

"I'm really so blessed to have had the opportunity to travel," Zeke said. "A lot of kids don't have that opportunity. I was able to see all kinds of places and get a feel for where I wanted to go to college. I'm so thankful for that."

Sometimes father and son flew to their destination, but typically they drove. Admittedly, the two sometimes "butted heads" during their travels, but for the most part it was a terrific bonding experience, each claimed.

"We had a lot of fun," Mark said. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

According to the elder Pike, recruiting has changed so much since he came out of high school 30 years ago. So much change, in fact, Mark researched recruiting for his son. From that, he determined what he considered the best course of action: being proactive.

"I kind of figured it out early and realized what I needed to do," Mark said.

While Zeke was still a freshman, his father sent game film to college coaches. More highlight clips went out the following year. Mark wasn't recruited until his senior season. He selected a school (Georgia Tech) on signing day.

Zeke picked up offers before he even became the starting varsity quarterback in 2010.

"It was worth it all," Mark said of his actions.

Ben Tamburello II and Ben Tamburello III

At one time in the early 1980s, Ben Tamburello, who attended high school in Birmingham, Ala., was committed to Alabama, the team he loved throughout his childhood. But before he could arrive in Tuscaloosa, legendary Tide coach Bear Bryant stepped down and Tamburello landed at Auburn.

Once there, he became a two-time All-American. Eventually, he played in the NFL.

Today, Tamburello practices real estate back in Birmingham. He's also a pretty big fan of a certain offensive lineman at Spain Park High in Hoover - Tamburello III.

"He wears No. 55 like I did," the elder Tamburello said. "He plays center like I did. Fortunately, he's much more talented in every way, not just football. He got a 30 on his ACT and he's got a 3.5 GPA."

The younger Tamburello never saw his father play. He retired before his birth. But Tamburello III knows all about his dad's time on the field. He's constantly reminded of it by others in the football-crazed state of Alabama.

"Most people that have anything to do with football immediately recognize the name and ask if I'm the son," Tamburello III said. "It gets your name out there, which is great. The expectations can be pretty high because of the name. But I feel like that only has helped to motivate me to live up to it."

Tamburello III claims a handful of offers, but is yet to receive one from his dad's alma mater. He's hopeful, if not optimistic, though, one will come but insists it isn't Auburn or bust.

"I was there Sunday for camp and getting a lot of attention," Tamburello III sad. "I ended up talking to some of the coaches and they told me they'd give me a hard look. It would be really cool to go there. But it's not make or break."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kneebs01@aol.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KeithRIVALS.



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