NASHVILLE - Two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard became the first player to pick off Ryan Tannehill at the Tennessee Titans' training camp this year with an interception during practice Thursday, joking he had to end the streak with everyone writing about the quarterback's turnover-free start.
And then Byard's alma mater gave him an even bigger reason to celebrate.
Middle Tennessee State University announced his No. 20 will become only the second number retired in program history when the Blue Raiders honor Byard in Murfreesboro on Sept. 30 during a game against the University of Texas at San Antonio. He will join Teddy Morris, whose No. 14 was retired in 1965.
MTSU president Sidney McPhee, athletic director Chris Massaro and Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill surprised Byard with the news after practice and the player's interviews with media. Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk was on hand for the announcement and congratulated Byard with a hug.
"I just want to say thank you," Byard said. "I'm so grateful. I know my mother would be very proud of me in this moment right now."
Byard left the Titans' mandatory minicamp on June 14 when his mother, Artina Stanley, fell ill; she died a week later. Stanley raised Byard and his six siblings by herself after a divorce, moving her family from Philadelphia to Atlanta when Byard was in high school.
He became a four-year starter at MTSU, and the Titans chose him with the first selection of the third round of the 2016 NFL draft. He remains MTSU's career leader with 19 interceptions, 377 yards in interception returns and four interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Byard was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl pick this past season, when he had 88 tackles and five interceptions during the regular season to help the Titans clinch the AFC's top seed for the playoffs. He was also an All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the 2017 season, when he had a career-best eight interceptions.
When former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout Buster Skrine surprisingly retired in late July, it made the 28-year-old Byard the oldest member of the Titans' secondary going into training camp.
"I'm going to make sure that I keep my standard at a high level because I can't expect anybody else to raise their expectations or raise their standard if mine's not extremely high," Byard said last week. "So the standard is high. Expectations is always high."