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April 12, 2010

Top prospect Lyons has eyes on education

MORE: East Texas combine aims to educate

There are many ways to describe Wayne Lyons: Student ... athlete ... captain. Of course, don't forget: Class president ... math wiz ... robot-builder.

Then there's this amazing stat about the junior at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard High School: His grade-point average (4.8) is actually higher than his time in the 40-yard dash (4.55). And both are remarkable.

It is why he was just as comfortable at the U.S. Army combine for the top junior football players in the country in January as he was at the National Young Leaders Conference earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

It is why USC, Notre Dame, all the Florida powers and Harvard are among the dozens of schools he is considering.

But for all his success, he remains humble.

"It shows me just how blessed I am to be able to compare myself to elite athletes and great scholars throughout the country," he said.

It actually draws comparison to another famous student-athlete: Former Florida State defensive back Myron Rolle, who will be selected in the NFL draft this month after taking a year off to pursue his studies in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

"Myron Rolle is a great person who excels both in the classroom and on the football field, similar to myself," Lyons said. "He is definitely someone that I look up to as a role model and someone I would like to model myself after."

Like Rolle, Lyons is a star defensive back.

Playing safety, the 6-foot, 190-pound Lyons was a presence everywhere, including opposing backfields. Of his 75 tackles, 21 were behind the line of scrimmage. He added six forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown.

Last year, he won the Maxwell Award at Football University's three-day training camp in Florida, becoming the first sophomore to haul in the camp's highest honor. In January, he was named the U.S. Army National Combine Defensive MVP.

"Wayne is a special young man, someone who really excels on and off the field," U.S. Army National Combine Director Joe Blauner said. "The hard work, effort and integrity he brings on and off the field is the mark of what we look for in a U.S. Army All-American."

His off-the-field efforts set him apart. Lyons, who was elected class president, is so smart in math that he took calculus as a sophomore. He builds robots in his spare time.

"I love building them, then creating a program that control the movements," he said.

For these reasons he was selected to attend the National Young Leaders Conference. There, he participated in "If I Were President" situations - game-planning for Somali pirates rather than Saturday opponents while meeting with U.S. senators rather than college recruiters.

"It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "I learned a great amount of information at the Conference. The students I met were outstanding and very diverse and intelligent."

And while he traded his jersey for a jacket and tie, he couldn't completely escape his football fame.

His mother texted him during the week, letting him know he had yet another scholarship offer - Lyons said he's lost count of how many dozens of schools have offered.

And another student noted him specifically in his closing remarks when talking about the diverse paths his fellow scholars will travel - he said he may have just studied with a future NFL star.

Lyons, who dreams of being a civil engineer, said the future excites him.

"Every day I think about that," he said. "That's what keeps me driving and working hard. I have the ability to get better at everything I do. If I keep working, I'm bound to be successful."

The next step is his next stop.

"I need a school that can give me a balance of good quality academics and at the same time have big-time football," he said.

Lyons said he hasn't begun to sort through his scholarship offers.

"I still get excited about new opportunities," he said. "Every school has something different to offer and a different plan for you."

Three - Stanford, Nebraska and Maryland - already have discussed plans to put him on a path to be a Rhodes Scholar, just like Rolle, his inspiration.

"Myron handled his business in the class. Now he is doing his thing on the grass and is going pro," Lyons said. "Those are two of my biggest dreams, to become a Rhodes Scholar and professional football player: The best of both worlds."

James Pallitto is a freelance journalist from the New York City metro area. He can be reached at JamesPallitto@gmail.com

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