I hope things work out for Colt Lyerla and he makes it in the NFL – does that make me a bad Oregon fan? He was one of our most promising athletes to come out of the state of Oregon in years, yet his college football career unraveled right before our very eyes.
If you search “Colt Lyerla” on Twitter, you will see people saying some appalling things about him. I understand why you might not be proud that he sported the Green and Yellow, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hope he works things out and ends up capitalizing on his tantalizing potential.
The case against Lyerla is certainly a strong one –after all, he quit the team during the middle of a then-undefeated season on a team competing for the national title. Earlier that season he missed the game against Tennessee, where true-freshman Johnny Mundt stepped in and scored two touchdowns in Lyerla’s place. Reports of Lyerla leaving Oregon said that it was a mutual decision, both he and head coach Mark Helfrich agreed it was in both their best interests for him to leave.
However, one can’t help but wonder if it truly was as peachy an agreement as we were told. Following his departure, Lyerla was arrested for cocaine possession in Eugene, further tarnishing his reputation throughout the football world.
The arrest and the bizarre end to his college football career turned out to be too much for NFL execs, despite being proclaimed as someone with ‘second-round talent,’ Lyerla went undrafted by all 32 teams at the NFL Draft, and had to wait several days to be signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers.
Even though Lyerla was a six-foot-four, five-star recruit that weighed more than 230 pounds when he committed to the Ducks, he came into the program somewhat under the radar. A member of the 2011 recruiting class , he and everyone else in that group (including Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Marcus Mariota) were overshadowed by the now-legendary 11th-hour commitment by De’Anthony Thomas, giving the Ducks the No. 1-rated athlete in the nation.
That season, Lyerla was behind David Paulson on the depth chart, ending up with five touchdowns as a true freshman, in a season that concluded with Oregon winning its first Rose Bowl win in more than 90 years. Though playing second fiddle to Oregon legends LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and breakout star De’Anthony Thomas, Lyerla showed promise with his almost Bo Jackson-like combination of size and speed.
The following year, his sophomore season, Lyerla started out with a new number and a new role on the team: starting tight end. Now in with the A-Team, Lyerla became my favorite player to watch, a true ‘Swiss Army Knife’ in Chip Kelly’s arsenal. He was not only a true passing receiving threat when lining up as the tight end, but he even experimented at running back, and was one half of a very memorable touchdown run against Arizona. He looked like “Bane” in an Oregon jersey, an explosive combination of brute force and grace, and he was a whole lot of fun to watch.
What made the season ever better was Lyerla saving one of his best games for last, the 2013 Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State, where he grabbed passes for more than 50 receiving yards in clutch situations. That game, and that season, he was a piece of a prolific offense, one of the many moving parts that combined to form an amazing scene. The only problem was, that this was as good as it would get for him at Oregon.
As his junior year started, Lyerla was not a factor in the offense, yet the team didn’t miss a beat. Making matters worse, he suspiciously missed a game, and voiced his frustrations publicly over how Mark Helrich handled whatever was going on. Shortly thereafter, Lyerla was no longer an Oregon Duck. Someone who had been outshone by the likes of Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, was finally alone in the spotlight – unfortunately the attention was anything but positive.
In the light of his arrest, I agree it was tempting to shake your head and write him off as another “dumb jock” who was wasting his scholarship, and ultimately, his shot in the NFL. Doesn’t he know he’s in a position people would do (almost) anything to be in? This wasn’t just a guy who blew his chance at professional football, he was on a path that ends in a much darker place than your typical football washout — time behind bars.
This is the main reason I’m pulling for Lyerla to succeed at the next level. Here’s a case of football potentially saving someone’s life. There are lots of stories of people escaping challenging environments through football – Oregon alone has many players from tough environments.
Yet, in my own opinion, the world can always use more stories about people overcoming their own demons. He has seemingly cleaned up his act, he looked good at the combine, running one of the fastest 40s of his group, and most importantly, taking ownership of his poor decisions.
Still, the red flags reigned supreme throughout the Draft. Everyone loves a redemption story, however, and Lyerla could be just that. You don’t have to love him; he certainly didn’t live up to the “Men of Oregon” mantra this program loves, but at least keep an eye on him as he battles for a roster spot with Green Bay. I know I will.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck