Brad Lyons' skillset makes him a prototypical Jackrabbit. His background doesn't. His fastest time in the 40-yard dash is 4.53 seconds - although he usually clocks around 4.58. Lyons has been known to outleap his opponent to haul down a high pass.
The Port Coquitlam native became the first Canadian to receive a football scholarship in South Dakota State's 101-year history and is working towards being more than an interesting footnote in the Jackrabbits' media guide. "I had choices all across Canada but I was interested in seeing my Div. I options," the 17-year-old said. "My trainer had a list of 80-some schools and I sent out a video...[South Dakota] was the only Div. I school to offer me a scholarship, but I was happy with that."
The Terry Fox Ravens grad is a few weeks into his Div. I debut, with a six-days-a-week training camp and playbooks the size of the Lower Mainland yellow pages.
Camp features three two-a-days plus meetings and playbook study sessions. There is little time to familiarize himself with life in Brookings, a college town of 22,000 people. Intense is a good description, he noted.
"It's incredible - you have barely any time in the day for anything else," Lyons said. "It's all-day football, all-day training."
They are preparing for the season opener, Aug. 31 against Butler.
South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier has been impressed with the player from Canada, whom he sees as a moldable project for his program.
"His challenges are more than most," Stiegelmeier said in an e-mail. "First of all, he is from a different country. He lived in a big city and moved a long way to a small town. Freshmen need to learn to prioritize, and then follow those priorities. They need to go against the flow of the average college student. As a student-athlete, he also finds out he is at the bottom of the depth chart, which is always hard for a freshman."
As is the case with most freshmen, the plan is to have Lyons red shirt his first year and learn from and practice with the starting team. Like nearly every first-year player, he comes in having starred at high school - with Lyons being a provincial all-star on defence, and a major piece to Fox's offence over the past few years.
Stiegelmeier said the PoCo player is making an impression already.
"We feel he has a ton of athletic ability and a huge upside for improvement," Stiegelmeier noted. "He will play defensive end for us and will red shirt... He runs and uses his hands very well. With his increased size and strength he should be a great defensive end for us."
The trek from PoCo to Brookings, near the Minnesota border, involved a lot of hard work and support from family, coaches and teammates, he said.
Lyons' journey in football started as a teenager, when he joined a friend to a tryout and came away stung.
"He's always been a good athlete," recalls proud father Darren. "He did all that hard work and I did all the driving.
Lyons learned the basics in Coquitlam minor, and became a well-rounded player as part of the Ravens program. His four-year term at Terry Fox was during one of the program's rare down cycles, with the lone playoff win coming against Centennial last year.
"We beat [Centennial] and I was in on the final play that clinched it," he recalled. "Another highlight was in the preseason against West Vancouver when I pulled down
an interception to end the game."
Last year he was named a provincial allstar, after racking up 65 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions on defence. On the other side of the ball, he posted 700 receiving yards and 300 rushing over 10 games, and was a member of Team Canada at the Football University All-American tournament.
Of all the coaches who pushed him along the way, he has special memories of two - Kevin Chin and Carey Lapa. The two gridiron coaches were great communicators who shared their passion for the game with the players. Chin died in 2007 and Lapa in 2011.
"Those two had a huge impact on me."
Fox co-coaches Tom Kudaba and Martin McDonnell also were instrumental in helping him become well-rounded.
At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, Lyons is competing for a defensive linesman spot
against guys 20 pounds heavier.
"I'm trying to put on 20 pounds of muscle... I know that I might have to red shirt this season, but if that's how it goes I'll take this year as a chance to get bigger and better," he said.
South Dakota finished 9-4 last year, including an impervious 6-0 at home. While there are positions open, being literally the new kid on the block makes the task of getting into a game all the more enticing. Lyons understands the challenge ahead and how the system works. Red shirting requires patience and determination to deliver his best effort at each practice while attending to off-field training.
The whole football culture on display, even at training camp, is amazing, he added.
"It's a huge difference from high school in Canada," said Lyons. "I go from competing as one of the top-five in B.C. to one of the weakest players in camp. But I love it."
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