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Oregon’s Lyerla ready for spotlight in Fiesta Bowl

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, at 7:05 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, at 12:24 p.m.

No. 5 Oregon vs.

No. 7 Kansas State

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Records: Oregon 11-1, KSU 11-1

Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KLS, 107.9-FM

TV: ESPN. Ch. 32

Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla is, by his own admission, “kind of a mama’s boy.” That is evident by a sprawling, ornate tattoo that stretches from just above his right wrist to the middle of his bicep.

“It’s a big sun, with rays that look like blades and there are clouds underneath,” Lyerla said. “I got it for my mother. When she saw it, she got a little emotional .. there was definitely some crying.”

And he’s not done there.

“No way,” Lyerla said, laughing. “I’ve got a lot more to add to the arm. I’m trying to get sleeved up, this arm for sure but maybe both.”

That Lyerla is to the point where he’s opening up — with ease — about his life inside and outside of Oregon’s football program is another benchmark in the evolution of the 6-foot-5, 246-pound sophomore who Oregon coach Chip Kelly called “arguably the best athlete in the nation” when he signed out of Hillsboro (Ore.) High School in 2011. Lyerla picked the Ducks, ending a national recruiting battle for a player ranked the No. 2 overall athlete in the country.

Now, headed into No. 5 Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl showdown against No. 7 Kansas State on Jan. 3 in Glendale, Ariz., Lyerla appears on the brink of stardom.

He has 417 yards of total offense for the Ducks — 340 receiving, 77 rushing — and seven touchdowns this season. As a true freshman in 2011, he had seven catches for 147 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

“I want to play football until my legs give out on me,” Lyerla said. “That was something that came a little later for me, but I realize it now and I realize what I want out of my future.”

Lyerla’s sophomore season got off to a rocky start — he missed the beginning of training camp because he had to “take care of some things” according to Kelly. He was off-limits to the media for the first month of the season, either by his own choice or team punishment and the reason for his absence was never given.

Lyerla, going back to high school, has always been reluctant to embrace the spotlight.

As Oregon has become a national power over the past decade, the number of homegrown players starting for the Ducks has steadily declined. Someone like Lyerla, who starred in high school just two hours from Eugene, comes under even more scrutiny because of his roots.

“(Oregon) is pulling kids from Texas and Florida, so it’s not too often that a big school like that takes a kid from the northwest,” Lyerla said. “But that was what drew me here, to come and play for one of the best teams in the nation.

“I think because a lot of people that are watching me now are the same ones that saw me in high school or have read about me for awhile there’s extra support and there’s extra attention. I didn’t really like talking about that at first, but now I’m embracing it. There’s nothing better than going and playing at Autzen Stadium.”

Lyerla’s physical attributes project him as an NFL tight end in the mode of New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez — Lyerla also has a basketball background — and a big showing in the Fiesta Bowl could springboard him onto draft boards headed into his junior year, after which he’ll be eligible for the NFL Draft.

“I want to be like those guys, I do see the similarities between us physically but to think I could ever play like that is humbling,” Lyerla said. “It’s something to shoot for.”

For now, the task at hand is matching up with K-State, something Lyerla has thrown himself into — he’ll likely find himself going head-up with All-Big 12 defensive end Meshak Williams in blocking situations and being covered by All-Big 12 linebacker Arthur Brown in passing situations.

“Kansas State has two defensive ends and a middle linebacker that are really, really good,” Lyerla said. “They’re not big, huge guys like Stanford but they’re more athletic and move a lot better, which makes them harder to block. Everyone here is really excited for this game because it’s a great matchup ... I didn’t really get to play a lot last year in the Rose Bowl so this bowl experience is new to me. It’s my time to step up, to take a bigger role.”

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