by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - University of Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla hauls in a pass and gets hauled down by the Oregon State defense in last year's Civil War game.A lighter, enthused and more settled Colt Lyerla is looking forward to his third season — perhaps his final season? — with the Oregon Ducks.

"I'm super pumped," the beast of a tight end from Hillsboro High says. "Just because this is the first year for me as a true veteran and upperclassman. I'm excited to see how I can help the team.

"Just to be a bigger part of the team ... hopefully I can produce for our team on offense and special teams and be a bigger part."

Lyerla's influence with the offense continues to grow, and he has been named to the John Mackey Award watch list.

He caught five TD passes as a true freshman in 2011, then had 25 receptions for 392 yards and six TDs last season, and added 13 carries for 77 yards and another score.

Clearly, he'll be one of Oregon's top weapons, along with receiver Josh Huff and slash player De'Anthony Thomas — oh, and QB Marcus Mariota, of course.

The Ducks, who open training camp Aug. 5, will look to shore up the running game, with second-year back Byron Marshall, Thomas and rookie Thomas Tyner the building blocks.

With Mariota at the controls and several receivers to choose from, the Ducks could open up the passing game, and Lyerla likely would be one of Mariota's top targets.

"Marcus is the type of guy who's impossible not to get along with," Lyerla says. "We're both part Polynesian. We get along great off the field, and even better on the field."

Lyerla has stayed in Eugene this summer, moving his mother from Hillsboro and settling in.

"I'm here for the long haul," he says.

He has been working out, shedding weight to get lighter and quicker so he can move better. Too many times, he says, defenders caught him in the open field last year. He doesn't want that to happen. He prides himself on being a super athlete, a transcendent player as a tight end.

The 6-5 Lyerla says he has lost 10 pounds and weighs 257.

Not being able to break away from defenders "really bugged me," he says. "I felt like my speed and tempo — that's something I've worked on a lot this summer. I want to make plays when my number is called."

Lyerla also looks forward to more action on special teams. He has served on kickoff team, and he'll try to be on punt or punt return.

A multi-position player at Hillsboro who could have played linebacker or defensive end at Oregon, he still relishes being in the action and tackling players.

"It can only help the team and myself. That's one of the funnest parts of the game," he says. "Just really getting after it, being able to use your body to bring somebody down."

And, who knows? Lyerla might opt to enter the NFL draft after his junior season, and NFL teams usually want their tight end types to play special teams. Lyerla thought about the NFL question, before answering:

"Um, you know, it's just one of those things you can't really decide or think about until the exact time comes. It's a tough question. Obviously, every college player talks about playing in the NFL — the sooner the better — but there are more important things to get done. The season is one of them, and we still have the national championship on the line. And, all of us have school. After the season, in January, I'll be thinking about (the NFL) more."

The NFL watch continues for several underclassmen Ducks, actually — Lyerla, Mariota, Thomas and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

But, Lyerla lives in the now. He considers school work "part of the deal" to be a UO football player, but he understands the importance of working toward a degree for life after football. "It's important to have a Plan B," he says.

Lyerla believes the Ducks are primed for another shot at the national championship game, although he concedes there will be questions about Oregon because of the coaching change from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich.

"I feel like we have a big target on our back," he says. "We're excited to prove what we can do. We'll be ready to go."

The national championship remains the primary goal for the Ducks, says Lyerla, who signed with the school in February 2011, shortly after UO's appearance in the big game against Auburn.

"That's the feeling around the program, because we fell short a little bit the past two years," he says, of a national crown. "We really want to get there, especially against a big SEC team — two completely different types of teams playing against each other in the national championship would be so great.

"It's got to be something to aim for. We definitely have the talent, we've just got to put it together."

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