SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- I don't pretend to know Colt Lyerla. But I've watched him play football since his days at Hillsboro High School, where he was a one-man wrecking crew. I've interviewed him over the years a few times, or at least attempted to interview him. That was never an easy job. Most of the time it was very difficult to get much out of him. So I admit I was very pleasantly surprised when I chatted with the Oregon tight end Monday at the Fiesta Bowl media session. He's a man now, and it seemed he was a new man. Confident, outgoing, funny and enjoying himself -- I barely recognized him.
He was a joy to speak with, on camera and off. When the brief interview was finished -- we were nearing the end of the allotted time for such things -- we talked some and I congratulated him on how well he did. "I used to be nervous about these things but I'm not anymore," he said. "It's fun." One of the underrated joys of covering sports at the high school and college level is watching young people mature. Watching them grow into adults. I can go all the way back to the beginning of my career in this business and think of so many cases when people absolutely transformed themselves as they matured.
When I first interviewed Danny Ainge as a junior at North Eugene High School, he couldn't seem to look me in the eye and mumbled vague answers to questions. A few years later and he settled in to one of the most captivating personalities I've ever interviewed. Of course, as people age, they grow -- mentally, physically and emotionally. That's normal. I'm sure all sorts of things contribute to shaping a personality and the maturation process, but participation in a sport is certainly a part of that growth.
In the case of Lyerla, I was so impressed with how far he's come in a relatively short amount of time. This was a media battle royale -- and the horde interviewing the Oregon team was much larger than the one an hour later speaking with Kansas State players. Lyerla handled it with ease. Of course, I'm still probably not as impressed about that as I've been with him on the football field. He's a monster of a tight end who the Ducks have used in the backfield, too, which is where he played at Hillsboro.
With all the time to prepare for the Fiesta Bowl, we wondered if Coach Chip Kelly had schemed any sort of new role for Lyerla. The kid was coy about it, but judge for yourself as you watch the video. And his "Chip's got a crazy mind," statement goes directly into my personal Quote Hall of Fame.