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Former Tigers ready for bowl games

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
His role is not a long one. In fact, he could be on the field for as little as one play during a game.
Fortunately for Patrick Byrne, he has made the most of his opportunities with the University of Memphis Tigers football team.
The former T.R. Miller quarterback/kicker will return to the area tonight when Memphis takes on Bowling Green at the GMAC Bowl in Mobile. For those who can not attend, the game will be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m.
Byrne, a redshirt sophomore, handles the kickoff duties for Memphis. In short, the more the Tigers score, the more work Byrne gets.
"I've been pretty consistent with my kickoffs this season. I've had 34 touchbacks so that hasn't given opposing teams a lot of opportunities for returns. I hit a little bit of a lull with my kicking midway through the season, but I feel like I've bounced back," Byrne said.
Byrne, brother of 2004 T.R. Miller Homecoming Queen Erin Byrne, had initially hoped to have an opportunity to kick field goals for Memphis this season. Instead the Tigers went with Stephen Gostkowski.
"Having the chance to kick field goals would have been nice. However, Gostkowski is an outstanding kicker. He was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award (for the nation's top kicker). I've learned a lot by watching him and studying his alignments," Byrne said.
With Gostkowski being only a junior, Byrne may have to wait another season before he gets the opportunity to kick field goals.
Byrne also has a pretty good performer ahead of him at quarterback in senior Bobby Wimprine. Wimprine, a Conference-USA Second Team choice, has been a four-year starter with Memphis and owns most of the school's passing and total offense records.
"I hope Bobby gets a chance to play in the NFL. He knows and studies the game so well. He is extremely intense and doesn't get rattled when something goes wrong. The one knock against him has been his size. He's only 6-0, which isn't real big for an NFL quarterback. I think he has a chance to get drafted. If not, he may catch on with somebody as a free agent," Byrne said.
With the GMAC Bowl being Wimprine's last game, it opens up the starting quarterback job for the Tigers next season. Byrne hopes to contend for that position.
"Next spring is going to be a key time for not only me, but the other quarterbacks that return plus those they are bringing in," Byrne said.
Byrne said it has been tough keeping his quarterback skills sharp with no playing action.
"I feel I'm still pretty sharp from a mental standpoint. I go to all the quarterback meetings and study the films just like everyone else does. However, it's tough to stay sharp from a game standpoint when you don't
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get to play and you don't get many reps in practice. I'm eager for a chance to get back in at quarterback," Byrne said.
Byrne's Memphis team brings an 8-3 record to Mobile, the same as Bowling Green. The Tigers were 5-3 in Conference-USA.
"We could have easily been 10-1. We lost a couple of close games to UAB (35-28) and to Louisville (56-49). Then again we won a couple of real close games, especially at Ole Miss (20-13) and East Carolina (38-35). Our season turned in a more positive direction after we lost to Cincinnati 49-10. Nothing went right in that game. Then came the Louisville game. Even though we lost, we scored 49 points against a Top 10 team. I think that gave us a lot of confidence headed down the stretch," Byrne said.
Byrne expects a shoot-out type of game against Bowling Green.
"Bowling Green is a lot like Louisville. They tend to score a lot of points like we do," Byrne said. "Bowling Green will be a tough opponent for us. They've competed real well out of the MAC (Mid American Conference)."
While the GMAC would be a memorable experience for Byrne regardless of where the game was held, he admits it makes it extra sweet having the game in nearby Mobile.
"It's not around the block, but Mobile is only about an hour and a half away from Brewton. I've got a lot of family and freinds coming to the game. Most of them haven't seen me play since high school. With our regular seaosn schedule, probably the closest we would play to Brewton would be in Birmingham against Alabama-Birmingham or maybe Hattiesburg (Miss.) against Southern Mississippi. Even those schools are about three and a half to four hours from Brewton. It will be nice getting to play this close to home again," Byrne said.