For 30 games, Colt Lyerla played for the University of Oregon. Prior to spontaneously leaving the program in early October, he had helped the Ducks go 27-3 during his time in Eugene.
After talking to multiple sources in the program, around the program, and NFL scouts, I've been able to document what many have told me is the real story about Lyerla.
An Unsteady Start to Lyerla’s Football Life
A 61-yard touchdown grab in triple-coverage. That was the first glimpse mainstream football fans had of the then 6'5” 220-pound Hillsboro, Oregon running back and linebacker, Colt Lyerla. The catch eventually made its way through multiple outlets, including ESPN's “SportsCenter”, creating a superstar out of Lyerla seemingly overnight across the state. His junior year was his breakout season, the season many, including himself, realized that he had a chance to play on the next level.
Lyerla was a varsity member as a freshman, but neither of his previous years on the team could compare to the 39 total touchdown production he had during Hillsboro's 5A championship run. The hype around him increased along with his statistics and honors, as did the pressure to stay in state collegiately. Oregon and Oregon State fans flocked to message boards to debate which school would land the rare blue-chip in-state talent. The teams had finished first and second respectively in the Pac-10 that season. The pressure to out recruit each other for star of the state was apparent.
It's been well documented that Lyerla wasn't a fan of the recruiting process. Football was his release. But to truly realize why it was his release, you need to first understand what he was trying to release. “[Football] was definitely an escape”, Lyerla told the Oregonian early in the 2012 season. “I didn't want to focus on other things.”
When talking to those around the situation, they agreed those “other things” were issues at home. His family's construction business failed early in the 2000's, and his family went through “legal and financial troubles” , according to the Oregonian. His parents divorced while he was in elementary school, and he began to split time between houses.
At one point, his father vanished for months before reappearing in his native state of Hawaii. Lyerla was left as the man of the house early in his teens. His mother was on disability, unable to see over Lyerla at times. Colt often had to take care of himself, when he was just that, a “colt”.
Then, the young Lyerla started to lose focus of what ultimately was a way out for him: football. He “skipped recruiting meetings, including one from Oregon's offensive line coach Steve Greatwood”, and was asked to leave on a recruiting trip to UCLA early, during their worst recruiting season in a decade, according to Yahoo's Rivals.com.
According to a source stationed in Westwood, Lyerla was asked to leave after taking “verbal shots” at members of the Bruins football staff.
Lyerla Arrives at Oregon, and His Problems Begin
This is also when “the rumors,” as one source called them, started. Allegations of drug and steroid use didn't begin when he enrolled at Oregon in 2011, but had started swirling around during his high school days.
A source close to the program even went as far to say, “[Oregon] was aware he was doing both, whether [Oregon] turned a blind eye to it or not. If you would have asked around at that time, you'd have had an answer by the end of the day. He was all anyone talked about at camps, and only about half of the time the talk was what he was doing on the field.”
Lyerla's first year at Oregon wasn't great, but he was productive, and he seemingly dodged controversy for a year. Scoring five touchdowns on only seven touches as a true freshman, everyone saw the potential that Lyerla had in store for the future. With starting tight end, Logan Paulsen, graduating out of the program, Lyerla was tabbed by many as his replacement. He was thrown into the spotlight as a sophomore.
During the spring practices of 2012, Lyerla had finally made the full transition from running back to tight end. Coaches praised him for coming into his own, ready to roll with him as their starting tight end. That was, until he mysteriously didn't suit up for Oregon's spring game. Until recently, there were no leads to why this had occurred. Many around the program just said he sat out the spring game, missed about three or four weeks of practice, then rejoined the team. Nothing was addressed internally.
On the eighth of October, the Portland Tribune posted an article stating that “three men accused Lyerla of assaulting them” on April 27th, a day before the spring game, and that Lyerla “appeared extremely drunk, or possibly under the influence of drugs.” No charges were ever pressed against Lyerla.
Judging by Lyerla's tweets the alleged assault did happen, and he doesn't have much remorse about the situation.
Lyerla Issues Turn to the Internet
While discussing Lyerla's personality, the first thing that always came up was that he is a bright kid, but his judgment wasn't always correct. “He ignores advice from others. He posted an Instagram once that had a 'CAA Sports' stamp on it, and he's not shy to share his controversial opinions,” a source close to the program told me. CAA Sports is an agency that, according to its website, represents NFL stars like Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and J.J. Watt. “I am well aware of who CAA is, so I called the AD and let them know. They took it down and suggested that he get off social media. He ignored their suggestion.”
Instead, Lyerla stayed on social media. He soon would tweet out a controversial YouTube video alleging that President Obama had been responsible for a conspiracy surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting. The media soon had picked up the story during the slow portion of the college football year, and it made the front pages of many sites.
“Colt is just the sort of a guy that you meet, and he'll be a little bit off and spacey. I think he has some childhood issues or has some personal or mental issues that he needs to work out,” a source in Eugene told me.
Lyerla's reputation had started to spread campus wide. He tweeted out, “When u experience apprehension of tellin ur own professor ur real name in fear he will have some preconceived notion of you...<<,” on the second of October.
His reputation from high school didn't go away, but has seemingly snowballed since he arrived in Eugene. Multiple sources told me, for whatever the reason, the people he hung around, his actions, or just rumors about his past, led people to call him “Coke” Lyerla, at least behind his back.
Editor's note: Since the original writing of this article, Colt Lyerla was arrested by Lane County police for possession of cocaine.
Lyerla’s Start (and End) to His 2013 Football Season
After catching one reception in each of his first two games in 2013, Lyerla missed the Tennessee game, which first year head coach Mark Helfrich said was simply due to “circumstances”, and left it to that. Again, fan's speculation ran wild as Lyerla's exclusion of the game was released just prior to kickoff.
“I do know that he absolutely was sick earlier in the week,” an insider told me. “I've heard from a few people that he was in fact suspended for the Tennessee game.”
Another source told me, “He was sick all week, but was going to go on Saturday. He ended up breaking curfew on Friday and they let him know he wasn't going to be playing the next day."
The next week, Oregon played at home against California. Lyerla didn't record a single touch. Colorado was Oregon's next foe, but like the Tennessee game, Lyerla didn't suit up against the Buffs, either. Helfrich didn't go back to using “circumstances” to describe why Lyerla wasn't on the field, but instead said it was a “violation of team rules” that kept him from playing.
According to Comcast SportsNet NorthWest, the reason for the suspension was for “repeatedly being late or absent from team activities.”
Here’s what three separate sources told me about him missing meetings and his eventual suspensions for the Tennessee game:
“I can confirm Colt missed some meetings, which I can speculate, knowing coach Oz (referring to Oregon's tight end coach Tom Osborne), is enough to put Colt in his proverbial 'doghouse'. Coach Oz is a very old fashioned coach. Players can get on his bad side really easily.”
“He definitely didn't leave on as great of terms as you're lead to believe. He thought he was above the rules, and he didn't like the coaches alluding to 'circumstances', or that they came down on him in front of others for his constant tardiness.”
“He was basically told that he had three strikes before he was out. He was on his last at bat. He must have felt threatened by the staff suggesting he was on his last shot. I think he has trust issues.”
Tom Osborne once told the Oregonian, “The common theme was if you created the structure for him and the support, he'll have success.”
That structure, unfortunately, seemed to fade, if it ever existed at all. Over the next season, Osborne’s tone had changed about the former Hillboro star. Lyerla chose to leave the team, and Osborne stated he was, “never surprised with Colt,” when asked about the tight end's withdrawal from the team.
When he was asked the reason for his withdrawal over social media, he replied, “The offensive system. Wasn't a good match. I'd be better in a slower pace/pass first spread.” It should be noted that this year's staff, Lyerla's first not lead by Chip Kelly, is still virtually the same one that pitched him the system coming out of high school. Mark Helfrich, previously the offensive coordinator, moved to head coach, former wide receiver coach Scott Frost moved to offensive coordinator, and Matt Lubick was brought in from Duke to coach wide receivers. Lubick was the only one not with the program during Lyerla's recruitment.
Lyerla Leaves the Oregon Program
Lyerla decided to leave the program to begin pursuing his professional training early. This was not the first time he thought about quitting a team, though. The Oregonian wrote that Lyerla “considered giving up the dream of being a college athlete” in high school, too.
“That's what worries me the most,” an NFL scout stated. “He's good, but he's not great. He's still got to work on his effort. If he's not the first read, he's not running full speed. He's quit on a team, too. Is this really what he wants? He's good, but everyone here's good. Effort is what separates a lot of third deal players from free agents, not pure talent.
On many occasions, we heard, 'you get as much as you put into him, with [Lyerla].' Maybe he'll mature over these next couple months, but I promise he's got as much to gain or lose in the interview process as anyone in the class.”
Optimum Scouting tried several times to come in contact with Lyerla and his reported agency for an interview or comment, but no response was ever sent back.