Football: Former Fayetteville stars find new home in Missouri

Posted: June 28, 2017 at 1 a.m.

The Fayetteville High trio headed to play football at the University of Missouri are, from left, receiver Barrett Banister, defensive tackle Akial Byers and quarterback Taylor Powell.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Scores of Fayetteville High School football players have signed to play football for the Arkansas Razorbacks, but three from the same class is a rarity.

That happened in 2013 when quarterback Austin Allen, linebacker Brooks Ellis and safety Alex Brignoni all signed with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

What's even more rare?

A trio of Fayetteville players signing with a Southeastern Conference school other than Arkansas.

That happened in February when Taylor Powell and Barrett Banister signed national letters of intent with Missouri on national signing day. Akial Byers joined his teammates in Tigerland when he was cleared academically for SEC play in April.

The three former high school teammates arrived on the Columbia, Mo., campus earlier this month and are going through informal workouts now. The Tigers open the season Sept. 2 at home against Missouri State. Missouri went 4-8 last year but rallied to beat Arkansas 28-24 to end the season.

DEMONS BE GONE

Powell (6-foot-1, 205) won every statewide player of the year award, including the All-Arkansas Preps Outstanding Player of the Year and Landers Award, after he led Fayetteville to a 12-1 record and a second straight state championship in Class 7A. He was verbally committed to Wake Forest for seven months before an offer from Missouri -- less than two weeks before signing day in February -- changed Powell's plans.

The chance to play in the SEC, the school's proximity to Fayetteville and Missouri's emphasis on the passing game also were factors in switching from his pledge to the Demon Deacons, he said.

"I've always liked teams that throw the ball around and Missouri is one of them," Powell said. "I've always wanted to play in an offense like this, and now that I'm going to play in it, it's a dream come true."

Banister (6-1, 185) was close to enrolling at Auburn as a walk-on but, after Powell put in a good word with Missouri coaches, he decided to join his friend as a preferred walked-on with the Tigers. Banister caught 69 passes for 851 yards and 16 touchdowns from Powell, who threw for 3,473 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior.

"I texted coach [Barry] Odom about Barrett after I committed and he said 'yes, that Barrett was definitely worthy,'" Powell said. "Barrett then went up there to visit and he saw the same things I saw, about how it was a great place."

Byers (6-4, 275) signed with Missouri in April to complete the trifecta of former Bulldogs. The standout defensive lineman was a longtime Alabama verbal pledge, but eligibility concerns had the Tide planning to place him at a junior college.

"They assumed that I wasn't going to get qualified in time," Byers said. "They just moved on and signed someone else. They wanted me to go to junior college for a semester, so then they could still get me. But other schools like Missouri, Oregon and Arizona State gave me the opportunity to play D-I now.

"And I didn't really want to go to junior college now that I didn't have to."

WOO, PIG, SOOIE

The Razorbacks have had mixed results in signing multiple players from the same high school in the same year.

Odis Loyd, Reggie Hall and Kerry Owens became the pride of Stuttgart when they each signed with Arkansas and played four years for the Razorbacks beginning in 1985. Anticipation was sky-high after Springdale High sent four players -- quarterback Mitch Mustain, wide receivers Damian Williams and Andrew Norman, and tight end Ben Cleveland -- to Arkansas in 2006. Only Cleveland finished his eligibility at Arkansas after the others transferred.

More recently, Arkansas is still reaping the benefits of the Allen, Ellis and Brignoni signing from Fayetteville in 2013, even after Brignoni suffered an injury and never played for the Razorbacks.

"I knew those guys really well and I actually played golf with Alex," Banister said. "He talked about how cool it was that we were getting to go to Missouri together. He said that it was a great experience getting to go up there with your best friends. He said we're going to enjoy it a lot."

None of the three Missouri signees from Fayetteville were offered scholarships by the Razorbacks. Arkansas bypassed Powell despite achieving success at quarterback with Allen and his older brother Brandon, who is now a backup quarterback with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I guess I wasn't what they wanted," Powell said. "That's just how it goes sometimes, and I'm fine with it. They're a great team and it's a great school, great city, but I'm supposed to be at Mizzou."

Banister grew up a Razorbacks fan with deep ties to the program. His grandfather, Harold Horton, and uncle, Tim Horton, each played and coached at Arkansas. Tim Horton, who is an assistant at Auburn, started at receiver and was team captain for an Arkansas team that finished 10-2 in 1989.

Despite scholarship offers from several Division II schools, Banister had planned to walk-on at Auburn before Missouri came calling.

"I had a lot of connections with Arkansas and I went to a lot of games," Bannister said. "But it just didn't work out and I'm going to a place at Missouri where God wants me. I'm excited about it."

TIGER TALES

The three former Purple'Dogs should receive strong consideration in preseason drills at Missouri, which is 9-15 since winning consecutive SEC East championships in 2013 and 2014.

Junior Drew Lock will again be under center after starting the last 20 games at quarterback. But Powell will have an opportunity as a backup this season after sophomore Marvin Zanders transferred to Virginia and former recruit Rey Estes flipped to Minnesota in January.

"Coach Odom said I need to come in like I'm competing for the starting job," said Powell, who plans to major in pre-med. "To redshirt would be the best option for me, but if I need to come in and play, I'm ready to do whatever is best for the team."

Missouri needs plenty of help on defense after allowing 31 points per game last season and struggling mightily against the run. Byers was part of a 2017 signing class that was heavy on defensive linemen. The Under Armour All-American will compete with five other newcomers, including three junior college transfers, for playing time on the interior. Banister will likely redshirt with a handful of Lock's favorite targets returning at receiver.

With four consecutive home games to begin the season, Missouri has a chance for a quick turnaround. The Tigers open with Missouri State, South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn. Those are all important games, but the three newcomers from Fayetteville will undoubtedly have their calendars marked for Nov. 24 when Missouri faces Arkansas at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

There will be some mixed emotions during the game, which will be televised on CBS the Friday after Thanksgiving.

"They're proud of all three of us and happy for us," Powell said of his friends and former classmates at Fayetteville. "They say they're going to be our No. 1 fans until after Thanksgiving."

Sports on 06/28/2017