Grandfather knew best for Pitt's Byham
College Football Videos
How did he do it?
That's your first thought about Ron Byham, whose life took a dramatic turn in the summer of 1988.
In mid-July of that year, Byham's wife died of a sudden illness. A few months later, he had to decide whether to take custody of his 6-month-old grandson, Nate, whose mother -- Ron's daughter -- was only 16.
"She was just a child herself," Ron says.
The baby's father was out of the picture, which left Ron, a 45-year-old grieving widower and grocery store produce manager in Greenville, with a hard choice: Should he step in and raise the child himself?
Ron didn't see it as a choice. He saw it as an obligation. He went to court, signed the papers and began a new life riddled with uncertainty. He was a single grandfather.
How'd he do it?
He just did.
"I changed a hell of a lot of diapers," Ron recalls with a laugh. "And when I was working, I had neighbors who would take him in the afternoon. I didn't do it myself. There were a lot of coaches, parents, friends, his aunt (Kim Baptiste), so many people who helped."
In fact, Nate, a sophomore tight end at Pitt, moved in with his aunt in Franklin in first grade. He went back to his grandfather in fifth grade and eventually split time among several supportive households through his years at Franklin High School.
But his grandfather remained the rock in his life.
"A very loving gentleman," says Jeanne Klinger, the mother of Nate's friend Billy, in whose home Nate spent many a night. "He kept Nate in line."
It took a village to raise Nate Byham, and the village should feel proud. He is a well-spoken, confident young man - a model student-athlete, by all accounts.
He was a blessing to his grandfather, whose grief over his wife's passing and worry over his daughter's plight couldn't help but give way to gratitude every time he laid eyes on the little fella.
Besides, it's hard to be distracted when there's a dirty diaper calling your name.
Nate became the son Ron never had.
"The Lord provides in so many different ways," Ron says. "When He took my wife, He replaced her with Nate, I think."
The child was amazingly calm.
"I look back on it now, and the kid was never sick a day in his life," Ron says. "You put him to bed, he went to sleep. When he started teething, I didn't even know it."
When Nate started playing sports, everyone knew it. He grew to be a 6-foot-3 220-pound football and basketball star at Franklin, eventually becoming the No. 1-ranked tight end in the country by Scout.com.
Southern Cal, Florida, Michigan, they all came calling. Nate had a special affection for Pitt but admittedly was "tempted" by the glamour programs.
He chose Pitt for two reasons.
"My grandfather and the coaching staff," he says.
Pitt's coaching staff had the kind of NFL pedigree Nate craved, and his grandfather was only 80 miles away.
"He has supported me my whole life," Nate says. "He got me into every sport I ever played, came to every game, paid for everything. I'm very thankful, and I wanted to be able to reward him."
Pitt's offensive coordinator, Matt Cavanaugh, coached star tight end Todd Heap with the Baltimore Ravens. He says Nate(now 245 pounds) reminds him of Heap.
Nate didn't do much his freshman year, outside of a spectacular touchdown catch against West Virginia, but he'll be a starter this season.
That he has gotten this far is remarkable. He saw his father only once, when he was 15. His mother has not been active in his life in recent years.
How many children of similar backgrounds take the wrong path• Ron Byham, now 64, believes his grandson's salvation boiled down to a single word: "Sports."
Well, that plus the village, plus the love of a grandfather who didn't have to think twice about stepping into his grandson's life.
He just did.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.