When Colt Lyerla abruptly announced his departure from the Oregon Ducks on October 6th and his withdrawal as a student from the University of Oregon, it was met with surprise and shock in the media. But as the saga unravels, there are an increasing number of voices that say, while his departure was abrupt, it wasn’t exactly impossible to predict.
In his time in Eugene, Lyerla has embodied a tension between the reality of playing Division I football for an elite team and the delusions of a teenager able to capture the attention of millions simply by being tall, strong and fast. Apparently that tension became too much for him, culminating in his departure from the team, a decision that will almost surely end badly for the promising young tight end.
In the world of reality, Colt Lyerla came from an All-American high school career at Hillsboro High in Hillsboro, Oregon and made an immediate impact for the Ducks. His first year saw him score 11 touchdowns on just 32 catches, while he also saw action as a part-time power running back. His size, speed and potential immediately caught the attention of NFL scouts, ultimately making him a first round lock in several draft predictions going into the 2013 season.
But this is where the delusions and illusions that often stalk the young and talented come into play. There was the assault charge levied against him by two U of O classmates in the spring of 2012. It happened in the wee hours of the morning, admittedly a scenario that nearly guarantees that most, if not all, participants were intoxicated. Lyerla approached a group of revelers on their way home from a bar and “’acting crazy” (his intoxication is only speculated upon) he pushed three men to the ground, and acted in such an aggressive manner that a nearby group of bystanders fled, fearing his wrath. The scene brings to mind Bruce Banner unleashing the Incredible Hulk at a frat party. No one was seriously injured, but the strange way witnesses described Lyerla “running away” after the altercation and disappearing into the night cast some doubts as to the character of the powerful tight end.
Matters weren’t improved by Lyerla’s inflammatory Twitter updates following the Sandy Hook massacre. Demonstrating that it’s completely acceptable in America to question the validity of any commonly accepted facts (9/11, global warming, evolution) Lyerla felt the need to question the veracity of the shooting deaths of 20 elementary school students. “The parents of the kids that supposedly died in the Sandy Hook situation are liars,” is what he wrote. The statement was eventually removed at the request of the University of Oregon, but the incident forced many to wonder how firm his grip on reality really was.
Of course, football players get into altercations all of the time. And wacky, confused political statements from celebrities have become commonplace. The biggest delusion Colt Lyerla is guilty of, though, is imagining himself existing beyond the rules of the team. In a program like U of O, one reliant on deep talent and the interchangeability of skill players, Lyerla should have known that the team would move on without him. Lyerla hardly registered a blip on the 2013 college football radar. Playing in only two games he accrued two receptions for 26 yards, and rushed three times, leading to his lone touchdown. In his place, Johnny Mundt has done enough to make the change at tight end hardly a problem. The freshman Mundt posted the most receiving yards by a tight end since 2009 in the game against Virginia (121), not to mention he scored two touchdowns. If Colt Lyerla ever had the idea that he was bigger than the team, he was sorely mistaken.
When he chose to quit the Ducks football team and drop out of college, delusion took over from reality as the defining factor in Colt Lyerla’s life. Not only did he quit the team, but he quit college, too. Whereas his future formerly included a strong possibility of an NFL career, and at very least the chance at a bachelor’s degree (if he chose to stay in Eugene for four years), now it is centered on the outside chance of being picked up in a late round of the draft by a team hoping to get lucky on a once blue chip prospect who’s shine has been tarnished considerably. With only one remarkable freshman season and two lackluster sophomore games as his calling card, chances aren’t good that he’ll find a place on an NFL roster. The sad part is that, barring the type of practice squad Cinderella story that occasionally happens, this is probably the last time we’ll be talking about Colt Lyerla’s performance on a football field before he disappears into the night like so many delusional athletes before him.