For aspiring college football players, from five-star blue-chippers to future walk-ons, first contact with a university typically comes in the form of a questionnaire. Every year, schools send out hundreds of logo-embossed forms asking players to list their height, weight, 40-yard dash time, grades, test scores and on-field accomplishments. Players return the forms, and college coaches use the information to help tease out the potential scholarship recipients from the masses.
Now, as coaches at some of the nation's top programs assemble their 2011 signing classes, they're receiving a questionnaire from a Florida address. Coaches at 44 schools have offered
Lyons and his mother,
Lyons and Bush want all these answers, because they know Lyons has the potential to follow in the footsteps of former Florida State safety
For example, of all the blue-chip high school players who now post details of their recruitment on Twitter, how many also include tweets such as
Lyons, whose lofty GPA uses a scale that weights honors and advanced placement classes, also earned a 3.8 GPA while collecting 24 credits as a dual enrollment student at Broward Community College. He took calculus as a 10th-grader, is his class president and helped Dillard coach
Lyons can also play. "He's a safety that's going to be able to cover like a corner," Martin said, but not before he casually mentioned that in his first game as a junior, Lyons knocked the helmet off a North Miami ballcarrier with his first tackle. Between his grades and his on-field chops, Lyons can write his own ticket. Bush said she didn't realize how many options her son had until a conversation with Wisconsin defensive line coach
Lyons is close to that number now. His list includes offers from Alabama, Boston College, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, UCLA and Wisconsin. In fact, it was Wisconsin's Partridge who inspired the questionnaire. He mentioned to Bush that 2010 Badgers signee
"[White's] wasn't as elaborate as what we have," Bush said. "We were very, very specific."
The questions about coaching stability and fit on the defense came from Lyons. The questions about graduation rates came from Bush.
Before Bush knew she had a star football player, she knew she had two star students. Lyons and his older sister,
Bush, who has had sole custody of her children since she divorced their father in 1995, works two jobs to ensure her children have what they need to get through college and become professionals. Bush, a former assistant principal, runs the In-School Suspension program at Attucks Middle School in Fort Lauderdale. After the school day ends, she teaches life skills to special-needs students. Bush also has several unpaid jobs. She handles NCAA Clearinghouse material for Dillard's football program, working with players to ensure they have the proper class credits and test scores to play in college. She also serves as her son's recruiting coordinator, going through more than 100 pieces of mail a week and posting cards and letters from coaches on a wall to make sure her busy son sees all of them and remembers that he has a world of options.
Neither Bush nor Lyons dreamed Lyons would have so many choices. When it became clear in ninth grade that Lyons would be an excellent football player, Bush simply assumed he'd go to Florida, the school she had attended and the school Lyons' sister currently attends. Then the recruiting mail started pouring in, and Bush began reading up on all the universities. Now, she dreads the thought of paring down a list that includes so many quality schools.
If coaches want a tip on the best way to recruit Lyons, they should start by making sure they know everything about their school's engineering department. Lyons spends much of his time at school building robots, and he plans to be an engineer when he's finished playing football. College coaches may want to look into the department's masters programs as well, because Lyons won't be an undergrad for long thanks to all his dual enrollment and AP credits. "His sophomore year, he'll get his bachelor's degree" Dillard's Martin said. "His junior year, he'll be working on his masters." To this point in Lyons' recruitment, college coaches have stressed their school's academic strengths as much as their defensive schemes. That's fine with Lyons. "I want a school," he said, "where the degree is worth something."
The lucky school that lands Lyons might get something back in return. At Dillard, Lyons and Martin believe the mentoring program they started this year will pay dividends for years to come. Last week, Lyons and Martin visited middle schools to discuss the program with eighth-graders bound for Dillard. "It's basically for the incoming ninth-graders to hook up with the seniors on the football team," Lyons said. "We can mentor them through the whole high school process so they can stay focused and maybe not make some of the mistakes some of us made when we were younger."
Lyons hasn't made many mistakes. He has always challenged himself in school, and he's sweated for every A he has earned. "He's not some genius-type kid," Bush said. "But he's a very disciplined, very hardworking kid." And even if he slips a little, Bush need only give her son a gentle reminder. During his sophomore year, Lyons struggled with his AP world history class. Frustrated, he suggested to his mother that he drop the class because it was, in his words, "stunting my growth." Bush couldn't help but laugh at the suggestion. She didn't have to say much else. Lyons stayed in the class. "I don't have to say anything to him about his grades," Bush said. "As long as he makes the A's that he should and the occasional B here and there, I figured out a way that he should maintain his No. 1 ranking." Lyons has no problem with the occasional nudge in the correct direction from mom. "I wouldn't be half the man I am if not for my mom," he said.
Soon, Lyons will trim his choices to about 15 schools. He wanted to leave all his options open during spring practice to draw college coaches to Dillard, where he hoped they might be intrigued by some of his teammates. "When they have National Signing Day," Bush said, "he wants it to look like a team meeting."
At some point before that, Lyons will face the brutal task of choosing the one school that satisfies him most from a football and academic standpoint. If it were just football or just academics, it might be easy. Finding the place that properly balances both is the challenge. "There are so many great institutions," Bush said.
And one truly special recruit.