Football: Saluki makes transitions

By Gus Bode

For eight years, Byron Gettis was a professional baseball player, appearing in 21 games with the Kansas City Royals in 2004 and most recently playing in the Detroit Tigers’ system.

Gettis now attends SIU and plays tight end for the Salukis, partaking in spring practices after not playing last season. He will replace the departed Braden Jones, whose 32 receptions and seven touchdowns last season led the Salukis.

“I got to watch him and I watch a lot of film,” Gettis said. “I study myself and I guess as a redshirt that’s what your supposed to do. You’re supposed to observe a lot.”


Gettis was a quarterback for Cahokia High School before jumping straight to professional baseball in 1998.

Converted by the Salukis to tight end, Gettis said he has come a long way since he arrived, getting faster and stronger with the help of coach Jerry Kill, tight ends coach Carl Mauck and strength coach Eric Klein.

“When I first got here this summer I was soft,” Gettis said. “I was a cake-eater when I first got here, but like I said, coach Mauck and coach Kill get on you enough, you got to get tough.”

At 27, Gettis is the oldest player on the Salukis, making him a team leader despite his freshman status.

Kill said SIU would do the same thing in the passing game with Gettis and Ryan Kernes as it did with Jones last season. Kerne’s one reception last season was a 7-yard touchdown, and Kill said Gettis has taken well to playing tight end.

“He’s doing a fantastic job. Byron’s a fine young man, a great leader and I respect Bryon Gettis a tremendous amount,” Kill said. “How can you not respect him?”

Gettis said he has to fix some mental errors, but he’s happy to practice with his teammates.


He was named AA player of the year in 2003, but hit .179 with 14 strikeouts and eight walks in 39 at-bats during his call-up with the Royals in 2004.

There are similarities between playing professional baseball and college football, Gettis said, which have helped him with the Salukis.

“When you travel on a bus in the minors and you get off the bus and have to play a nine-inning game, all you think about is getting rest and it’s the same with being in class,” Gettis said. “When you go to class all day, come to football, you got to get your work done but you need rest. That’s the thing I could kind of take over from the minors and just being a leader.

“When someone’s tired and stuff, you got to push them. In competition, most of the time it’s against yourself, pushing yourself to the limit.”

Gettis is a special education major and hopes to become a teacher and coach after he graduates. He doesn’t use one of SIU’s football scholarships because the Royals pay for his tuition.

He is enrolled in 16 hours this spring after taking 12 last semester to get re-acclimated with the classroom.

“Luckily in ’98 I was smart enough to say, you know what, put $90,000 away so I can go to school,” Gettis said. “When I stop playing baseball I will take that to fulfill another one of my goals and dreams, and that’s coming to school to get my degree.”

Latricia Gettis, his wife of four years, and 2-year-old son Byron Jr. reside in Carbondale, but occasionally Latricia will go home to East St. Louis.

Latricia would travel with Gettis on the road when he played baseball, which she said she got used to. But it eventually became hard again.

“Traveling one state to another state, it was kind of difficult raising a child, so I think everything made a turn at the right time,” she said.

Latricia has been supportive of the decision for Gettis to go to school and play football, but it has its positives and negatives. Gettis has class and practice, but they have a home in Carbondale and a good school district for when Byron Jr. begins school.

Gettis is driven to and from campus by Latricia, who sometimes has lunch with him during the day.

“It’s still kind of hard because he’s only here maybe four hours a day,” Latricia said. “I love my house in Carbondale. I like the neighborhood.”

Quarterback Nick Hill said Gettis is a natural leader, a consistent and tough player who won’t get rattled.

Gettis said being a leader of the Salukis has to do with trust between him, his teammates and the coaches – a trust he said he doesn’t want to betray.

“It’s always good to be a great example because a lot of these young men are going to leave here and start a family – some even have families now, but I have to be an example so whenever they do go out in the real world, they could always say, you know, Gettis, if he did it I can do it and they also know somebody.

“A lot of times if you don’t know anybody then it’s kind of far-fetched, but when you know somebody that’s been through it, you can kind of say, ‘You know what? I can make it.'”