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Lyerla’s departure a 24-hour story in a 365-day race for excellence

Colt Lyerla quit yesterday. 

He was suspended from Saturday’s game for a violation of team rules, had a meeting with the coach Sunday, announced that he loved Oregon and was leaving on good terms. He’s not transferring, but rather dropping out of school to prepare for the NFL Combine and a shot at pro football.

The decision leaves a big question mark on his resume with pro scouts, and he’ll be asked a lot of questions about it in the interview rooms in Indianapolis. NFL front offices are increasingly leary about taking troubled players. His draft stock will suffer an immediate hit, something he can turn around to some degree with impressive workouts and eye-popping scores at the combine. (Oregon Daily Emerald photo.)

 

Lyerla is a tremendous physical specimen. He’s 6-5, 250 with a 40-inch vertical leap and a 4.5-4.6 40. There are Youtube videos of him jumping out of swimming pools and into the bed of pickup trucks. There’s Oregon highlight film of him trucking four defenders and scoring 11 touchdowns in 32 receptions. But there are also reports of him being late and a discipline problem. In one decision he’s gone from a projected first round draft pick to a potential free agent, a difference of millions of dollars. He’ll have to apply himself, get in top shape, and prepare for the questions. But now he can do so without the distraction of playing for a coach who had lost trust in him.

Duck fans have to wish him well. One, those outside the program can’t know the whole story, and two, Lyerla had some great moments as an Oregon player. There was jublilation when he elected to stay in state and signed with UO. He was a five-star recruit, and expectations were enormous. Everything he did, from reporting early for spring practice as a freshman to tweeting about Sandy Hook, drew outsized attention. If Colt Lyerla took a drink at a campus party, something college kids do every weekend, it made the internet somewhere and the rumor mill within an hour. The attention had to be both exhilarating and stifling, a lot to handle at 20 years old. Some do, though. For Colt it always seemed like a burden, the expectation and pressure of being a potential All-American and superstar and one of a kind player. It never completely came together for him. And it never seemed the Ducks got him the ball enough.

Lyerla missed two games this year out of five, one with illness and the other due to the suspension. His biggest day as a Duck was the Washington game last season, when he caught 3 passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He nabbed four balls for 54 yards against Stanford, 3 for 52 against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. This year he had two catches for 26 yards, and he dropped four, clearly frustrated with his role, his performance and his relationship with head coach Mark Helfrich.

The first game Colt Lyerla missed, true freshman Johnny Mundt caught five passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, a bigger day than any the superbly-talented Lyerla had in two and a quarter seasons.  Saturday in Boulder, reserve tight end Pharoah Brown scored on a two-point conversion and made a nice grab over the middle for 24 yards. Mundt recorded one catch for 13 yards, but dropped a ball in the end zone, a tough catch in traffic that should have been a touchdown.

The departure feels a lot like Cliff Harris: mercurial, marvelously talented player has disciplinary issues and suffers a suspension, then leaves during the season. In the goducks press release, Lyerla said, “I love everyone at Oregon; everyone’s on good terms, I believe,” Lyerla said. “Just for my own benefit, it was time to move on.”

“I wish nothing but the best for coach Helfrich and the team,” Lyerla said. “I love the University of Oregon and am so thankful for every opportunity that I had. I’m going to use everything I learned from this program and do my best to be successful in whatever happens in the future.”

The coach and the player reportedly talked Sunday afternoon and it was Lyerla’s decision to leave. Helfrich’s only comment was, “We wish Colt nothing but the best in the future, and will support him in any way we can.”

In the past few seasons, the Ducks have dealt with the loss of Walter Thurmond, LeGarrette Blount, Jeremiah Masoli, Harris, John Boyett and Carson York. Quarterback Darron Thomas passed up his senior season, and the team turned to a redshirt freshman who came within a field goal of taking them to a national championship game.  Lyerla was an enormous talent that opponents had to account for, a bruising runner that left fans clamoring for more passes and even carries in the backfield. Ultimately, however, a shocking decision like this, six days before the Ducks travel to Seattle with ESPN College Game Day setting up with the lake as a backdrop, comes down to something Chip Kelly said all the time:

“We’ll miss you, but we’ll get along without you.”

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