BURNABY — As a pass rusher, Brad Lyons has always looked for the shortest and the quickest path into the opposition backfield.
Yet it wasn’t until he finally settled on the school that is the shortest and quickest path from his high school days in Port Coquitlam that the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Lyons finally found the place he could call his football home.
“I’ve had a pretty weird path,” the 2013 graduate of the Terry Fox Ravens explains of the circuitous route he’s taken from the Tri-Cities to South Dakota, to Minnesota and finally to Terry Fox Field where he has come into his own as a red-shirt junior defensive end with the Simon Fraser Clan.
“I didn’t plan on going to three different universities, but all I know is, I’m really happy where I’m at.”
And that’s sitting at the very top of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s leaderboard in tackles-for-loss.
Despite the Clan’s 0-2 start, Lyons has already made five tackles for a loss, for a total of 34 yards, and his 2.5 tackles-for-loss per game are not only tops in the GNAC but 15th in all of D2 football.
“It feels good to be able to make plays, but I want to get that win more than anything,” says Lyons, whose Clan open the GNAC campaign Saturday at Humboldt State.
Head coach Kelly Bates, who has put pieces both young and unproven together with what little returning talent he had this season, appreciates the glue that Lyons has provided to both his unit and his team.
“He’s been a leader since he has gotten here, and he is definitely a guy our entire staff looks to set the tone,” said Bates. “He does it day in and day out and he practices like a pro.”
That’s the role and the rhythm Lyons was hoping to find in the fall of 2013, when he packed his bags as a true freshman and headed off to an NCAA Div. 1 career at South Dakota State, where the Jackrabbits are a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Ask Lyons about that season, and he comes clean on how tough it can be for a freshman who has left home and isn’t fully prepared for the rigours of life as a student-athlete.
“It was a little bit being homesick, but I kind of didn’t do too well in school coming right out of high school,” he admits. “I freaked out, and decided to come back home.”
Lyons spent the entire 2014-15 school year back at home, driving a forklift at a roofing company in Coquitlam.
“That year off made me realize how much I wanted to play football,” Lyons says.
So in 2015, he hooked up with a program playing in one of the very best D2 conference in the country, heading off to Minnesota’s St. Cloud State, where he split starts at defensive end and realized that despite two years of rust, he was still able to play the sport at a very high level.
However financial issues, as well as illness to a close family member made it more realistic to be closer to home.
The NCAA granted him the ability to transfer to SFU without sitting out a season, and thus he joined the Clan for the 2016 campaign. Taking into account where he had gone straight out of high school, getting Lyons into the program was like adding an NCAA Div. 1-type recruit.
“Brad is a quiet guy,” says Bates, “but he works so hard that the other guys have no choice but to step up to his level.”
And although that elusive first win has yet to come, Lyons says there is no comparison as far as an improved vibe amongst the team this season.
“The air of confidence and energy on defence is 100 per cent better than last season,” Lyons explains. “There is more competitiveness. We know we can win a game. Last year we kind of felt sorry for ourselves. This year we know we can win. And we are ready to put it together.”
Bates sees it, too.
“There’s a vibe around this group of kids that has built upon what the previous juniors and seniors have done the last two seasons,” he says.
The Clan kicks off in Arcata, Cal., against Humboldt State at 6 pm. SFU then returns home to Fox Field to play its conference home opener on Sept. 23 (1 p.m.) against Azusa Pacific.
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