Colt Lyerla is fixated on the truth. His truth, even after going through a very public, prolonged fall from grace, has not been revealed.
It didn't come out after he left the Oregon football program last fall. It wasn't revealed after he was arrested for using cocaine in the view of a police officer. And it still remains hidden after going through the pre-draft process, not being selected during the draft, and then signing with the Green Bay Packers.
The fact that it remains hidden is something that gnaws at Lyerla. There is a part of him that wants it come out. He wants to tell someone who will listen and change the way the public perceives him. It bothers him that people speak of him as if he is a degenerate who doesn't care about football. That isn't how he sees himself.
How do I know this? Because he reached out to me during the draft after coming across an article I wrote about him.
"I definitely made my own mistakes. But there were a lot of things that led up to me leaving Oregon. Someday that will all come out," he wrote. "But I can't thank you enough for not just assuming I'm a bad person. You wrote it fair."
Someday is not today. I attempted to contact Lyerla twice about this article, and I also reached out to his representatives to see if he wanted to share his version of the truth for this story. Lyerla did not respond and his reps never got back to me.
I definitely made my own mistakes. But there were a lot of things that led up to me leaving Oregon. Someday that will all come out.
It's the right choice. There is really no need for Lyerla to relive those moments. By speaking he will only draw attention to something that is probably better off being buried. The best way for him to atone to the public and himself is by cashing in on his immense talents and becoming a success in the NFL. There's no question he has the talent to do so. The only question now is if he can stay out of his own way long enough to make it happen.
Push aside everything you know about Lyerla and turn on his video from his days at Oregon. His talent is stunning. He lines up all over the field; runs good routes, and is an adequate blocker. At the risk of dropping his name with another talented, but troubled tight end, his versatility and skillset is very similar to that of Aaron Hernandez. The only difference is that he has also the strength to drag people for a few extra yards like another Patriots' tight end, Rob Gronkowski.
In a draft class that also featured North Carolina's Eric Ebron, who went 10th overall to the Detroit Lions, a case could be made that Lyerla was the most talented tight end available. If nothing else, he's certainly the most athletic, as he proved by finishing third in the 40-yard dash (4.61 seconds), and leading all tight ends in the broad (128 inches) and vertical jumps (39 inches) at the combine. And he did that after only training for a week since legal issues prevented him from leaving Eugene, Oregon.
After his performance at the combine, it seemed that Lyerla would seduce some team with talent and get them to gamble on him in the draft. It didn't happen. The reason for that, besides the obvious baggage, might be due to what happened behind the scenes. According to one league source, Lyerla apparently bombed in some of his interviews, leaving teams turned off.
Following the draft, as teams were scooping up undrafted players not named Lyerla left and right, another person familiar with the process believed the tight end might not get a shot at all. "He's shit out of luck," the source said.
Lyerla, however, is not shit out of luck. He eventually received a tryout with the Green Bay Packers, and performed well enough to warrant a contract. So he will now have the opportunity to re-write his truth, while serving as one of the NFL's most interesting rookies this side of Cleveland's Johnny Manziel.
Entering training camp, early projections have Andrew Quarless and third-round pick Richard Rodgers at the top of Green Bay's depth chart. But there is room for Lyerla to carve out a role similar to the one Jermichael Finley once filled before suffering a spinal injury last season. If it works out, and Lyerla becomes a versatile threat, Green Bay might end up with the biggest steal of the offseason.
Of course, for that to come true, Lyerla will need to stay out of trouble. But as far as that situation goes, he couldn't have landed in a better spot. The Packers have a reputation for developing players, and a strong, structured culture that should help him stay on the right path. The only place that might have been better is New England, but the Patriots' car wash for troubled players went out of business once Hernandez allegedly picked up a glock and starting shooting people.
Whether Green Bay has given Lyerla some type of rules or regulations to which he must adhere is not known. The tight end skirted the question in a recent meeting with the media, and head coach Mike McCarthy has also been mum on the topic. However, the coach told longtime NFL scribe Dan Pompei that Lyerla should take a broader view of his life.
"Colt needs to live for today and tomorrow," McCarthy said. "Everybody wants to keep digging up the past. It will always be there. I just want him to focus on today and tomorrow, make sure we have success each and every day on and off the field."
Lyerla still has a lot of work to do to make good on his talent and put his demons behind him. First off, he still needs to make the team and find a way to shake off the rust that has accumulated while sitting on the sidelines and in courtrooms for the last year. Secondly, he needs to make sure that the poor decisions he's made are truly a thing of the past and not the result of being in the honeymoon phase with a new chapter of his life.
For his part, Lyerla seems to realize the mistakes he's made, and believes that escaping Eugene, Oregon, the site of many of the horrors that have become part of his story, will make a major difference in his life.
It's my first day, the fans are out there and saying my name. It made me happy, made me feel good.
"That was a pretty low point time of my life," Lyerla recently told reporters. "I didn't have any resources. I didn't have any support. I was stuck in Eugene because of things that had happened. Thankfully when I was able to get out of there I took advantage of every opportunity I could and made the most of it."
There's a lot of work to be done, but for now the cheers that he once enjoyed while at Oregon have returned. According to reports out of Green Bay, Packers fans have already embraced Lyerla and cheered loudest for him at a recent organized team activity. That's an abrupt departure from the sounds heard in courtrooms or that of a jail door slamming shut behind him.
It's the soundtrack for football players who choose to venture down the right path and not waste their talents.
"It's kind of weird," Lyerla said. "It's my first day, the fans are out there and saying my name. It made me happy, made me feel good, so I can't complain."
If Lyerla can make good on this golden opportunity those cheers will become his only truth, and he will no longer have to worry about setting the record straight.
His actions will do it for him.