Colt Lyerla and his 'resurrection': Former Oregon TE hasn't given up on NFL dream

Jen Beyrle The Oregonian/OregonLive By Jen Beyrle The Oregonian/OregonLive

on May 04, 2015 at 12:00 PM, updated May 04, 2015 at 1:28 PM

I wish I would have given it a better try with Helfrich and his staff. I could have tried harder to mend bridges.

The resurrection.

That's what Hillsboro native and former Oregon Ducks tight end Colt Lyerla is calling his NFL comeback.

"I don't believe there is any room for error," Lyerla said. "If I don't make an NFL team this year, then I don't think I will make an NFL team any year."

There was a time, before the controversial exit from the Ducks, before the drug arrest, that the idea of a resurrection for the freakishly talented Colt Lyerla would have seemed silly. Lyerla to the NFL was a given. No question. He's too talented. Too strong. Too fast. Too big. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end was one of the most highly touted college football prospects this state has seen.

But a fall 2013 arrest for cocaine possession after leaving the Ducks football team sent Lyerla in a direction unbefitting his talent. It's a path marked by legal wrangling, rehab of mind and body, reconnection with family and making things right with his former teammates and coaches at Oregon.

Lyerla has found new life. Now he just needs to find an NFL team.

• • •

Oregon Ducks tight ends coach Tom Osborne, center, was the coach Colt Lyerla was the closest with during his time with Ducks. Thomas Boyd/The OregonianThomas Boyd

The 22-year-old is training back east and waiting for another shot. But before Lyerla left for New Jersey in April, he knew he needed to make one last trip to Eugene.

Lyerla reached out to his former tight ends coach, Tom Osborne, and asked if the Oregon coach would be willing to sit down with him. Osborne agreed.

"It meant a lot to me that he sat down with me and I really appreciated it because while I was there he was probably the coach I was closest with," Lyerla said. "He taught me a lot, not just as a football player but he taught me a lot about how to be a man. I might not have received those messages right away but it didn't take long after leaving Oregon to hear all that."

During their meeting, Lyerla assured Osborne that he is starting to make the right choices.

"It was great, it was good to see him, he seemed to be doing really well," Osborne said. "I was fired up that he seemed to be heading down the right path, I was very excited about that."

At the end of their talk, Osborne told Lyerla that if he makes an NFL roster, to send him a picture so that he can put it up on his office wall.

"If it wasn't for him (Osborne) and Chip (Kelly) and just Oregon in general, I don't think I would be where I'm at today," Lyerla said. "I think I could still be in trouble somewhere, not doing something positive like I am right now."

After his sit-down with Osborne, Lyerla went back to the John E. Jaqua Center for Student Athletes to see educational advisers, coordinators and tutors who had helped him. It was the closure he needed after leaving Eugene and the football program so abruptly.

When Lyerla arrived on campus in 2011, Kelly took a special interest in him and often held one-on-one meetings with the five-star recruit out of Hillsboro High School. Lyerla said they had a good relationship on and off the field, and the two developed a special bond. After his sophomore season, Kelly left Eugene for Philadelphia, Mark Helfrich took over, and Lyerla was left wondering if he would leave the University of Oregon as well.

"Through that offseason, I had in my mind that I was going to leave Oregon and transfer to another school," Lyerla said. "The culture at Oregon changed, and it wasn't the place I signed up to go to."

With his plan to transfer, Lyerla did not show up to many spring workouts, but he ultimately decided to stay at Oregon. Just before the 2013 fall camp, Lyerla sat down with an athletic department official to discuss his future on the football team.

"I'm thinking OK, maybe I can rally and even though I am a little out of shape, I can play the season out and things can turn out well," Lyerla said. "But there had been a lot of bridges burned with me and the new coaching staff."

Lyerla and the Oregon football team mutually parted ways in October. Three weeks later, Lyerla was arrested on charges of unlawful possession of cocaine.

"That was one of the lowest points of my life," said Lyerla, who eventually pleaded guilty to the charge. "I ended up getting in trouble and it completely changed the entire course of my entire life."

Instead of flying out to Miami to train with combine expert Tom Shaw, Lyerla was sidelined in Eugene dealing with legal issues. And instead of catching touchdown passes from star quarterback Marcus Mariota, Lyerla sat on his couch and listened to the loud roars of Autzen from his apartment located across the street from the stadium.

"Listening to games that I should have been playing in, that was really hard for me," Lyerla said. "I wish I would have given it a better try with Helfrich and his staff. I could have tried harder to mend bridges."

As Lyerla hit rock bottom, he said he found an inner strength to want to change. He was placed on a substance abuse program following his arrest and has been drug tested once a week since October 2013. Lyerla says he has passed every single one.

"I've learned a lot, I've had to go to a lot of AA meetings," Lyerla said. "I've had to increase my responsibility times 10 in order to get through all of this."

Being welcomed back to the Oregon community is very important to Lyerla. He says it is his mission to mend things with the Ducks and hopefully one day make Oregonians proud.

"To this day I don't have any hard feelings toward my alma mater. I root for them," Lyerla said. "I hope one day I can be accepted back into that. I think I am on the road to accomplishing that."

Lyerla has made strides with his recovery on the field as well. He has been in New Jersey since April working out at Parabolic Performance Therapy with former Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova and CFL wide receiver Brandon London. He said he is fully confident in his knee and is ready for another shot in the NFL.

"These past few years have not been easy for me at all. I've taken a lot of hard knocks, but I've somehow managed to get through it all and 2015 has been a really good year to me," Lyerla said. "I'm at a point in my life where I finally don't have any baggage. I'm free."

Lyerla knows that athletic talent and his football abilities have never been in question.

"The main goal right now is to show people that I'm out here working as hard as I can. I have a lot of people that I don't even know that are fans and support me and they want to see me do good," Lyerla said. "I'm so appreciative of that and I want to do that for them. I want to do that for my state, for my hometown."

Lyerla went undrafted in 2014 but was signed by the Green Bay Packers as a free agent. During his time in Green Bay, Lyerla says he was placed on another substance abuse program and was drug tested up to 3-4 times a week. Finally, it seemed that his hard work had paid off as everything was going well on and off the field.

Colt Lyerla injured his knee hurdling a defender during the Family Night practice at Green Bay Packers training camp in August 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

The Packers held their annual Family Night practice on Aug. 2, prior to their first preseason game. Lyerla was ready to showcase his talents for more than 65,000 fans at Lambeau Field.

During the scrimmage, Lyerla caught a pass and tried to hurdle a defensive back. His shoelace caught in the defender's facemask and he tore the posterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

Lyerla, now nine months removed from his injury, was given the option to have surgery or let his knee heal naturally. He opted for the latter and was waived with an injury settlement.

After Green Bay, Lyerla returned home to Hillsboro and spent four long months in a leg brace.

Lyerla's knee may have slowed him down physically, but the injury gave him a rare opportunity to have moments of self-reflection. Living off his settlement with the Packers, Lyerla made it a priority to occupy his time in a positive way. A 2014 DUI charge was dismissed. He got back to his roots and reconnected with the tight-knit Hillsboro community. He spent time outdoors, camping and traveling. Maybe most important, Lyerla connected with his family.

Lyerla has two half brothers and one half sister. He grew up with his half brother Loa until they were separated when they were 6 years old after his parents divorced. He first met his sister Kanani when he was 8 and did not meet his brother Samson until he was 11.

"We all grew up separate, all four of us," Lyerla said, "It's a big, interesting family."

Lyerla's mother, Tihanni, moved from Hillsboro to Eugene for what she thought would be his junior season at Oregon, so that she could be closer to her son.

Lyerla said he has relationships with his parents and all three of his siblings today. He calls them his biggest motivation.

Lyerla has two nephews (8 months and 2 years), with another nephew due in two months. He beams when he talks about the bond he has with his newest nephew, Crew, during his recent time in Hillsboro.

"When you see a little baby like that, it makes you want to be a good influence," Lyerla said. "I'm not a dad yet, but that's the closest you can get at my age. Seeing how happy they have made both my brothers and seeing how much they've changed, it just inspired me to do the same thing."

• • •

Lyerla says he knows what it takes to make it through an NFL training camp and is confident he can be successful in the league. But it is the inner peace he has found during the road to his "resurrection" that will set him up for success.

Lyerla's agent, David Schuman, says he has received a lot of interest from NFL teams about his client. Teams that are in need of a tight end, such as the Packers, Cowboys, Jets and Eagles, could be a great fit for Lyerla.

"As long as a player has moved on from issues and his head is in the right place, (NFL) teams are very willing to talk and move on," Schuman said. "He has learned his lessons and he has matured."

Schuman says Lyerla is showing up early to workouts and does everything that is asked of him.

"I'm still holding on, I'm still holding onto my dream," Lyerla said. "I'm not giving up, no matter what. No matter what is put in front of me, I'm going to keep trying."

--Jen Beyrle
jbeyrle@oregonian.com@JenBeyrle

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David Schuman

Certified NFLPA Contract Advisor

Inspired Athletes a Division of NUC Sports

New York, NY

dave@iathletes.com

201.912.2212

Family takes care of Family!

Dan Smith

Certified NFLPA Contract Advisor

Inspired Athletes a Division of NUC Sports

Boston, MA

dan@iathletes.com

617.688.6711