You can see the expression change on Jada Byers’ face any time it’s mentioned.

Just ask him how many offers he has. Ask him how many Division 1 teams are wooing him.

He’ll scowl at you. Just try not to take it personally.

“Nobody gives me respect out here,” said Byers, who has exactly one offer, from Sacred Heart. “So I just need to keep coming out here and showing everyone what I can do.”

A strong argument can be made that Byers, a senior, is the top running back in South Jersey. He rushed for 1,738 yards on 214 carries last year, and he caught 15 passes for 353 yards, leading St. Joseph to a Non-Public Group 2 championship.

In fact, Saturday afternoon’s game last week was billed as a battle of the area’s best backs: Byers’ Wildcats squaring off against Johnny Martin’s Highland at Rutgers’ “Rumble on the Raritan” showcase.

Byers carries the ball against Highland on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.
BEVERLY SCHAEFER/ For the Inquirer
Byers carries the ball against Highland on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.

Martin played with visions of what could be — the junior has an offer from Rutgers, Temple, Syracuse, West Virginia and Baylor.

Byers played the game with visions of what should be.

What’s most frustrating for him is that the only thing really separating him from Martin is a few inches and a few pounds.

Martin is listed at 5-foot-9, 210 pounds; Byers at 5-7, 168 pounds.

“People think I’m lying when I tell them how many offers I have,” Byers said. “People are out there getting offers because of their height. My motto has always been: My heart was over my height. You give me three inches of height right now, and tomorrow I’d have 15 offers.

“But I just wish more people would look at me for who I am.”

Conventional wisdom would say that Byers might be a bit too small for a Division-1 football program, particularly at running back.

But that wisdom was hard to lean on after Saturday’s game.

Byers rushed for 133 yards on 16 carries and caught 5 passes for 93 yards as his team beat Highland, 34-20.

Martin ran for 240 yards on 25 carries.

Both were impressive. Both flashed speed and power and athleticism. It’s hard to say definitely that Byers was the better running back, but it was easy to see he’s at least in the same class as Martin.

That much was certain.

“He’s too small? You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Byers’ veteran coach, Paul Sacco. “Shame on those coaches who aren’t giving him a shot because I’m telling you this: He is one of the finest kids you’ll ever be around. Just a big heart.

“He might not be a running back in college. We all know that. But you can see him as a slot or a wide receiver. You can see what he does when he’s out there.

“But a lot of coaches look at him and say: ‘We’re waiting.’ I say: ‘What are you waiting for?’ ”

Byers told stories of trying to market himself, of frustrating experiences double-texting coaches, of not getting the responses he’s looking for. He said sometimes he’ll be walking around his house and just start thinking about the attention he’s not getting. And it bothers him.

“I send them my tapes. I send them my Hudl, and I guess a lot of them just don’t see what they want to see,” Byers said. “But, hey, I’m glad Sacred Heart offered me, really, because it did feel like home there. So if it comes down to it, I will go there and put on a show, and all the college coaches are going to wish they offered that kid.”

Byers wants college scouts to regret not offering him by playing well wherever he goes.
Elizabeth Robertson/Staff photographer
Byers wants college scouts to regret not offering him by playing well wherever he goes.

And that’s when the scowl comes across Byers’ face again. He thinks he knows something those coaches don’t, and why won’t they just listen to him?

In his senior year, Byers said his plan is simple: Make them listen. Make enough noise that he’s impossible to ignore.

“Hopefully I proved that I’m the best running back in South Jersey, the best athlete in South Jersey because I can do it all,” Byers said. “I hope college coaches see that. … I just want respect. That’s all I need.”