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The Emotions of Sports: Tyler Lyon, fuel for the fire

Vilified former Hart High quarterback Tyler Lyon is turning life’s lessons into career motivation

Posted: August 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Hart High graduate Tyler Lyon was arguably the most criticized quarterback in Hart history. After years of dealing with negativity and failures, Lyon has turned the adversity into motivation to pursue a career in law.

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In his darkest moments, Tyler Lyon tried to use the disgust as fuel.

All the pent up anger from the reading of how worthless he was as a quarterback for Quarterback High got to him.

So did the classmates telling him to his face that he wasn't any good.

So did the time a teacher said there was no point in making a video for a pep rally because his team was going to lose anyway.

And so did a newspaper article saying he didn't perform well in pressure situations.

"Yeah, I tried to use it as motivation," Lyon says. "It definitely made me angry. It wasn't the kind of anger, I wasn't angry at anyone in particular. I was angry to the point where, it's hard to put this..."

Lyon then paused.

"Angry that my mom was upset about it."

Tyler Lyon made a grown man shed tears on a football field - a man known for rarely showing emotion. He made a hardened man's heart break.

It could be argued that no quarterback in the history of Hart High School, maybe no player, had been vilified as much as Lyon was. Certainly not in the years he was the team's starting varsity quarterback in 2004 and 2005.

Lyon stepped into animosity immediately.

The son of one of the valley's most successful coaches, then-College of the Canyons head football coach Chuck Lyon, Lyon transferred to Hart High from Valencia High as an incoming freshman.

He recalls having few friends at Hart High coming in and because he was a rising quarterback in the program, he took shots from classmates who said the only reason he was climbing the ladder was because of his father.

As an incoming junior in the summer of 2004, he competed for the starting job with senior Robbie Moore - the younger brother of former Hart star and current Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore.

Hart head coach Mike Herrington chose Lyon for the starting job, which created a divide between the seniors and upperclassmen.

"There was a lot of pressure because of the decision to make him a starter when there was a popular senior," Herrington admits.

"It was always kind of difficult," says Lyon's former teammate Troy Yudin, who was in the same graduating class. "There was this rift when he was a junior - who would get starting spot? That had to take a toll on him."

It was just the beginning, though.

By this point, Hart football went into every season with a giant target on its jersey - the streak.

The Indians had amassed a league winning streak that was growing in legend. Each team came into every Foothill League season carrying a torch that they would not allow to be put out, in large part because they didn't want to have the mark of being the team that lost the streak.

Going into the week of Oct. 29, 2005, with the winning streak at 65 games, Hart was about to face one of its biggest challenges - a Valencia team with the future state all-time passing yardage leader in Michael Herrick and a future New England Patriots running back in Shane Vereen.

"I remember dreaming about the game during the summer, I promise you," Lyon says. "The summer before my junior year, I thought about that game.

"It was a nightmare - let's put it that way," he says.

Hart was clearly overmatched in the game. Valencia defeated Hart 29-10.

Valencia students flooded onto the field, some waving flags, some hugging Valencia players, others taunting the losing quarterback.

Lyon says he went home that night and sat in his room alone. He felt, as the quarterback, it was his fault.

Afterward, he started reading. So did Chuck, and his Lyon's mother, Gabriele.

Internet message boards, which at the time were a fast-growing social media outlet, often with no rules or barriers, lit up with anti-Lyon hate.

"Lyon sucks" was tame compared to some of the stuff being said.

"That Internet board, where no one can say who they are, then they write things about high school kids and never say it in public ... it was brutal. It was brutal," says Chuck, held-onto anger clear in his voice. "My wife, she hated it. It was brutal."

His mother, Gabriele, says it hurt because, "I'm a mom."

Lyon's senior season was supposed to be his redemption. In the summer, scholarship offers poured in - the most golden being one from Notre Dame.

Universities saw Lyon's potential.

He was a lean 6 feet, 5 inches tall, played in a pro-style offense, had smarts and was athletic.

There were those in the Santa Clarita Valley, specifically at Hart, who wanted to see that potential fulfilled before he left high school, though.

Lyon had a strong start, but in the second game of his senior season, he suffered a concussion.

In came Alex Pettee, his junior backup, and the understudy had success.

When Lyon returned after four weeks off, he struggled.
The rust was apparent in an Oct. 14, 2005, game against Saugus High.

Then came the chants during the games for Pettee from Lyon's own classmates.

Lyon had tunnel vision on the field.

But once he reached the sidelines, he could hear the chant.

"Shoot, I'm thinking of a good adjective to describe - just rough, rough is the best word," Yudin says of Lyon's Hart football career. "It was really tough because not just being his friend and the kind of person he was, I supported him no matter what. I knew he gave us the best option to win. People had no idea what they were talking about. It was frustrating for me just as much as it was for him. We played ball since we were 7 years old. If they're criticizing him, they're criticizing me."

Chuck says his son was affected by the negativity.

"Distrusting, oh yeah. Oh yeah," Chuck says his son became. "I learned that myself, when you're (having hard times), you're going to learn who your friends are and who you can trust. He's not a trusting person of a lot of people because of what happened, who he was and what he had to go through."

Just when Lyon was going to deliver Hart football what its followers crave do much, a league championship, that went awry, too.

Yet not due to Lyon.

With seconds left at College of the Canyons and Hart down 16-14 to crosstown rival Canyon, Lyon was bumped by one of his own teammates prior to a handoff inside the 10-yard line.

Canyon won the game.

Afterward, Lyon went into his father's office, accompanied by his father.

Chuck took his keys and threw them angrily. Not angry at his son, but angry that Lyon was so close to fulfilling his promise only to have it taken away from him.

"I wanted it so bad," Lyon says. "We hugged each other, tears were shed. It was really, really tough."

Three days later, as Hart began preparing for its first postseason game, three players hazed a freshman call-up. The incident became highly publicized and Herrington responded early by kicking the responsible kids off the team. Just another episode in Lyon's career.

Yet the Indians won their first two playoff games, leading to a game against the No. 2 team in the country Mission Viejo.

Hart went into the game with little shot of winning.

Lyon says he was spurred when he heard that one newspaper said he didn't perform well in pressure situations.

"How could this be?" he thought.

Lyon says he felt games slowed down for him when the pressure was on.

He responded by having the game of his life.

Lyon was 17-of-21 for 256 yards and three touchdown passes in a 24-12 Hart victory.

After the game, Herrington - a quiet-natured man and a football lifer - began to cry when talking about his quarterback.

"He dealt with all the crap, all the criticism," Herrington said on Dec. 2, 2005. "Tyler's such a good kid. I'm happy for him."

That set up the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship game at Carson's Home Depot Center against Canyon. Not only was it a rematch of the Foothill League title game, but it was the first-ever matchup of the valley's biggest rivals in a CIF title game.

It was hyped as the biggest game in Santa Clarita Valley history and lived up to that billing.

Lyon was good, not great.

Canyon took a 21-13 lead with 2:20 to play in the game.

Then Lyon became great.

Hart started the drive from its own 1-yard line,
The senior quarterback marched the Indians all the way down to the 11-yard line.

Lyon faced a fourth-and-10.

He tossed the ball to Yudin on a slant route.

Yudin caught the ball above his left shoulder.

He was brought down by Canyon's J.J. DiLuigi at the 1-yard line.

A measurement was taken and Yudin was inches short of the first down.

Lyon says if he would have delivered the ball near Yudin's facemask he would have had the first down.

Instead, Yudin had to slightly contort his body to make the catch, costing him a split second and the possible inches he needed for the first down.

That was it.

Lyon's high school career was over.

And it was the last time he would ever play a football game in his life.

Lyon accepted a scholarship to Arizona and by his second year, he says he rose to the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.

Just three weeks into the season, Lyon was charged with a minor in possession of alcohol after a party.

He was dropped to sixth on the depth chart and eventually was made into a tight end.

There was a point, shortly after the incident, when Chuck met with his son in Arizona.

"That night in Tucson, it could have gone either way," Chuck says. "He could have shut down and not cared about school and gone in a different direction."

Lyon says, to that point, he poured so much into his athletic career and neglected his academics.

"I remember telling him I'm failing at everything I'm doing. I wasn't happy with that. I wasn't succeeding. That was the turning point," Lyon says. "(I said) ‘I'm sick of failing. Sick of being sixth-string, running scout team, not having my mind in the classroom because I was worried about what's going on on the field. I'm still going to bust my butt, but you're going to see a new Tyler in terms of doing something in my life besides sports.'"

Lyon failed immediately.

He tried to get into the University of Arizona School of Business, but was rejected.

But he was taking philosophy and it appealed to him. As did economics. So he double-majored in the subjects.

He had an economics professor who sparked another interest - public policy and economic law.

After he graduated from Arizona with the two bachelor's degrees, he took the Law School Admission Test and passed.

Lyon will begin pursuit of a Juris Doctorate with a master's in business administration this fall.
Chuck says sports has taught Tyler all it's going to teach him.

Yet it taught him about winning and losing and competing.
And it gave him fuel for a fire.

That fire now burns for something else.

But will that fire burn, or will something come along to extinguish it?

"Am I going to make it? Oh yeah," he says. "No matter how wavering opinion about me on the outside has been, my confidence has never wavered."

 

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