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Lyerla wastes little time making transition

Hillsboro standout got help from Paulson in learning new spot
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Oregon Ducks freshman tight end Colt Lyerla, from Hillsboro High, says he likes seeing family and friends in the stands at Autzen Stadium.

Even with the impact he has made as a true freshman, Oregon Ducks tight end Colt Lyerla cannot help longing for the days when he used to be an every-down running back at Hillsboro High. “I wish I were still a running back,” Lyerla says. “It might sound bad, but (I liked) having the ball all the time. It’s just hard to transition from 30 carries a game and then (at tight end) you could not be in the game plan.” Lyerla rushed for 1,543 yards as a junior and led Hillsboro to the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A championship. As a senior, he rushed for another 1,519 yards. Oregon coach Chip Kelly can see why Hillsboro used the 6-5, 240- pound Lyerla in the backfield. “He did a great job at Hillsboro, and if I were at Hillsboro I would’ve put him at running back, too,” Kelly says. “He was the fastest kid on the field, the biggest kid on the field. … (but) he’s more of a tight end in what we do offensively.” For the Ducks, Lyerla is a touchdown waiting to happen every time the ball lands in his hands. He has caught seven passes for 147 yards, and five of his seven catches have gone for TDs. Lyerla and defensive lineman Taylor Hart from Tualatin are the only Ducks from the Portland area who have made an impact this season. Being able to play for his home-state team gives Lyerla even more pride in all that he and the Ducks have accomplished. “It’s a big deal, just because I get to play in front of my friends and family,” Lyerla says. “Not a lot of guys stay in state, so I was happy to do that and be close to home. When you look in the stands, you actually know a couple people. It’s nice. I’m glad I stayed home.” The process of turning Lyerla into a tight end at Oregon was time-consuming, and started with the most basic steps of teaching him how to line up in a three-point stance and run routes. “As a high school running back, he had never put his hand on the ground in a stance or (learned) any passing routes,” Oregon tight ends coach Tom Osborne says. Lyerla expedited the process by coming to Oregon early for spring ball. “I’m really lucky that I came here early,” Lyerla said. “I’m kind of a slower learner, so it took me longer to learn the offense.” Another thing that helped Lyerla was that starting tight end David Paulson took him under his wing. “I didn’t know much about tight end at all,” Lyerla said. “Luckily, I had someone like David Paulson ahead of me to teach me everything.” Paulson’s job ends to a degree when his protégé steps onto the field. “When he gets out on the field, he’s really athletic, so that kind of takes over,” Paulson says. All the work Lyerla did enabled him to get playing time almost immediately. His first three catches, against Nevada and Missouri State, went for TDs. A shoulder injury then limited him, however, and he did not catch a pass in the next seven games. “I didn’t like it,” Lyerla said of getting less action while injured. “But at this level you’ve got to take the injuries seriously, and you’ve got to rest them when you can.” Now that he is healthy, Lyerla will provide the Ducks with one more offensive weapon against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. Looking beyond this year’s BCS bowl game, Kelly says that Lyerla can get even better. “He’s got a ton of athletic ability,” Kelly says. “He’s just scratching the surface.”