Lyons flips the script on recruiters

All Wayne Lyons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Dillard) remembers from the speech therapy sessions he took before kindergarten was dunking his popcorn in his fruit punch before eating it.

What the ESPNU 150 Watch List defensive back, future U.S. Army All-American and top-ranked student in his high school class forgets is pointing out shapes and colors well before the average 3-year-old typically could.

"He was 3 years old when we took him in to get tested because he had a speech impediment," Lyons' mother, Gwendolyn Bush, began. "And the specialist was asking him questions about shapes and colors, and he was pointing out octagons and red triangles, and we were all like, How does he know that at that age? We learned very young he was a smart kid."

The 6-foot, 181-pound Lyons was definitely groomed to be smart.

Bush used to read a lot to her two kids. A teacher and administrator, she says they knew how to use laptop computers before they could walk consistently without falling on their butts. Lyons' older sister, Danielle, graduated No. 3 in her high school class two years ago, and Lyons already has 24 college credits thanks to the extra classes he takes at nearby Broward College.

"I started very early, from elementary school on, that it's cool to be a smart athlete and don't accept anything less," Bush said. "He was the only little boy at his school to make the straight-A honor roll. With my background in education, I refused to let him be an underachiever."

Lyons hung on every word his mother said, but his first word wasn't ma, mom, mama or mother.

"It was ball," Bush said, laughing. "That kid always kept a ball in his hand. Whenever anyone took him to a place, he always came back with a new ball."

Lyons' father, Wayne, was an all-county and all-state football player, and his mother was a three-time state qualifier in hurdles on the track. Sports was always just as prevalent as education. Lyons, however, has taken it to a whole different level.

"Always do everything. Never do less."

That's the creed Lyons lives by. Outside the classroom, he's class president and was recently invited to a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the books, his physical style of play at the safety position and his speed and footwork at the cornerback position have resulted in 43 scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, UCLA and USC.

Lyons mentors kids in the Fort Lauderdale area and tries to instill the same values in them that his mother taught him.

"I try and let them know it's all right to be smart, and you can be cool and smart at the same time," he said. "You don't have to feel like a nerd or geek or anything."

Besides, can a high school junior who has written and constructed a program for three different robots but also had 69 tackles with 16 for loss and six forced fumbles really be a nerd?

Lyons is looking to major in engineering and reports no college favorites. He's a superb test taker, and he and his mother have issued a 50-question survey to each school that has sent a written scholarship offer.

"Some of the coaches called it the Wayne Lyons SAT," Bush said, adding that Notre Dame and Northwestern were the first two schools to respond.

"The 50 questions, it was very broad. They covered different dynamics [from] transportation to campus, to about the city, to the academic aspects, to the number of athletes that graduate, to the number that graduate in engineering, to how many African-Americans are graduating in their program, to summer school. It asked the coaches where they see Wayne coming in and fitting in their program."

Lyons and his mother got the idea from Wisconsin assistant coach Charlie Partridge.

"He told us how another player, James White, from [nearby national powerhouse] St. Thomas Aquinas did that," Lyons said. "Me and my mom thought it was a good idea, so we put our own spin on it with questions we'd like to know about the schools."

Notre Dame was one of the many schools that impressed the family with their answers. Assistant coach Mike Elston filled out most of it, but he got some assistance from head coach Brian Kelly.

"They were very impressive and very detailed," Bush said. "There was a lot of interest from them. Wayne has already visited Notre Dame, so as he read the answers to the questions, it helped Wayne refer more to what he saw and helped get a better feel for the new coaching staff. By Coach Elston just using those questions, Wayne has a better idea of how Coach Kelly's philosophy is going to fit in with what he was already introduced to at Notre Dame. Even part of the questions Coach Kelly answered himself, and they did a really good job, and it's a really good school."

Some schools didn't fare so well.

"Yes, there have been a few," Bush said. "There were some schools that did not reply back. Not many, only a handful."

Lyons said he is nowhere close to narrowing his list of schools. With the school year coming to a close, he will soon sit down with his mother and go over the questionnaire they sent out to each school to start making cuts. They'll talk about the visits he's made and combine that with the relationships he has with the coaches recruiting him.

"I'm looking to get it down to 15, and maybe even lower than that," Lyons said. "Maybe 10.

"The school I choose, I want it to be a good school degree-wise, graduation-rate-wise, good winning prestige, program prestige, coaching prestige, and playing time is also going to factor in."

Besides Notre Dame, Lyons has taken visits to Florida, where his mother attended school, Stanford, Miami, South Florida, Ohio State and Maryland. This summer, he's hoping to make it out to USC and UCLA, and he hasn't ruled out a second trip to Notre Dame. He camped in South Bend before his junior year.

"If I can't get there during the summer, I'm definitely going there on an official [visit]," Lyons said.

This past season, Lyons had four pass breakups, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. As a sophomore, he jumped on the national recruiting radar, racking up 95 tackles with 15 for loss as one of the team's outside linebackers. College football programs are recruiting him to play both safety and cornerback.

When coach Manny Martin took over at Dillard last season, he was champing at the bit to work with Lyons.

"What makes him so special when the ball is snapped is his intensity to try and get to the ball carrier and be in the area of the ball," Martin said. "Just his aggression of hitting.

"When I broke film down to see what I had coming, that's what stood out on film. The hitting."

The previous Notre Dame coaching staff offered Lyons on Sept. 1, the first day high school juniors could be formally extended a written full ride. The new staff got its hands on Lyons' film, and it's been a collective effort led by Elston to recruit him.

"I've talked to the whole staff," Lyons said. "They're all up-tempo and excited about the season. I'm impressed with them.

"Coach Kelly was real excited about me, and he said I could come in and make plays. He saw my film and said I'd have a great chance to come in early and play.

"[Defensive backs] coach [Chuck] Martin was saying pretty much the same stuff. He was saying he could play me at cornerback because I have the footwork and cover skills to play one-on-one, and he said I could play in the box and come up and support the run, and I could also be a deep safety and play broad."

Thanks to the way his parents raised him, Lyons can play anywhere. Harvard has even offered a scholarship.

"The biggest thing is, he listens," Bush said. "He's always listened."

Lyons even listened when he was told to stop dunking his popcorn in his fruit punch.

"I don't know why I remember that," Lyons laughed.

Steve Wiltfong is a writer for ESPN affiliate and Notre Dame fan site IrishSportsDaily.com.