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If things are just quiet enough on the southwest side of the University of Arkansas campus on a Friday evening around dinnertime in the fall, sounds from the Fayetteville High School football game can be heard. Akial Byers and Barrett Banister played there, at FHS, once upon a time with dreams of shifting to the larger stadium a stone’s throw away on the next campus over.
Now, five years later, they’ve done it and, actually, they’ve never once even lost at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. But you can beat a whole heap of Fayettevillians will be hoping they finally do on Friday.
Byers and Banister are seniors for Missouri, which enters the Battle Line Rivalry riding a five-game winning streak in the series. Arkansas last beat the Tigers in 2015, when Banister and Byers were seniors at Fayetteville High, which is exactly one mile from where the Razorbacks play.
Byers was recruited by Barry Odom, who is now the Arkansas defensive coordinator. Banister joined the Tigers as a preferred walk-on, then was placed on scholarship by Odom his sophomore season. Odom’s replacement, Eli Drinkwitz, previously coached at Springdale High School, one town to Fayetteville’s north, and are the Red Dogs to Fayetteville’s Purple Dogs in a rivalry game.
“To be honest with you, if (Arkansas) had given me that preferred walk-on spot, I probably would have been there,” Banister said. “But I’m grateful that I ended up here. I think God got me in the right place.”
Banister has 86 catches for his career at Missouri, including 12 the last two years against the Razorbacks. Byers was a 4-star recruit, but wasn’t recruited by Arkansas because his qualification status was unclear. He later qualified late and Mizzou snagged him. He scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in Missouri’s 38-0 win over the Razorbacks in 2018.
“It’s always personal for me and I’m sure it’s personal for Barrett because it’s our home state,” Byers said. “They very lightly recruited both of us, and we take it personal when we play those guys.”
So far it’s worked as both can leave Missouri after the season never having lost to their hometown university that barely acknowledged them in high school.
If Arkansas can snap the slide, Missouri will have finished the regular season at .500 for the third straight year. The Razorbacks, too, will have won eight regular-season games for the first time since 2011.
Kickoff is at 2:30 the day after Thanksgiving.