Durant’s Xavier Lyas has a pretty unique story. For starters, he’s an Army brat–which makes his experience growing up one that is “slightly different” from the norm. He runs track for the Cougars when he’s not pushing his 6-foot-4.5, 200-pound frame to the limits on the football field and can throw a shot put 42-feet with a personal best of 5′-7″ in the high jump. That’s not-so-unique on the surface, but when you factor in he can also run the 200 meters–with that frame–things start to get a little interesting.
Things pick up steam when he starts explaining his interest in history classes–specifically the World War II Era–or his desire to major in Civil Engineering. But probably the most unique thing about Xavier Lyas is that a little more than a year ago, he was 5-foot-11, not even remotely close to 200-pounds–and he wasn’t even considering football because he felt like he was too small. Man, what a difference twelve months–and five inches–can make.
Lyas moved down here while in the fourth grade in 2008 while only playing flag football up in Fayetteville. His parents were stationed at nearby Fort Bragg. “My parents were in the military up there and they decided it was a good lifestyle to be in down here–and so they retired here.” said Lyas. The Cougars defensive end goes on to allude to something that is very unique amongst children of servicemen and women, though. Something that unless you’ve grown up in that kind of house yourself is hard to fully grasp.
The opportunity to make lifelong friendships with other kids or even wind up raising a family in the town you grew up in when you are in the military is few-and-far between. It happens in some instances, but the lifestyle is transient by nature–duty calls for their parents and that duty could entail packing up after a year or less and moving on to another community–sometimes another country altogether. When you live in a town full of transition like Fayetteville, it’s hard to establish structure–something that’s ironic given the military’s fondness of structure.
But it’s more of a social structure that’s needed than anything else–especially for a child. After eight seasons in the Sunshine State, Lyas can tell the subtle differences between here and Fayetteville. “The people down here are more chill–and the people up there were constantly moving around.”
While standing at 5′-11″ is hardly classified as “small”–it’s literally the average height for a male on the planet. There’s nothing unique about being that height whatsoever. While there’s plenty–and we mean plenty–of prospects that fall short (no pun intended) of that 71-inch mark playing the game currently, playing football at that size was one of the farthest things from Lyas’ mind. Something changed, however–and yeah, you guessed it–size DOES matter in this case.
“I was a midget my freshman and sophomore year. I stopped playing football my eighth grade year because I had a knee injury and I felt like I didn’t want to play my freshman and sophomore years because I wasn’t big enough. At the beginning of last season, I just decided to come out.”
Is it genetic? Is it something that is completely random? Lyas’ parents–while possessing size themselves, aren’t nearly the tower(s) that their son is transforming into. Although Lyas isn’t going to dismiss his parents’ contributions in the height department, he suspects it comes from a different source–a source that is often overlooked in the process in many households–the parents of the parents. “I don’t know. It might–because my Dad’s 6′-1″ and my Mom’s 5′-5″, but I think my grandparents are where I get my height from. I’ve always been a late-bloomer, though.”
Physically growing that fast can actually be a problem–a big one. There’s literally going pains associated with even a few inches, much less five. Just like everything else Lyas has done to this point, he took that in-stide as well. “When I first started going through that growth spurt, my back started hurting–but once I got used to it, it was just another thing.”
Perspective is also something that Lyas possesses beyond the physical metrics. He knows he’s got a ton of work to do on the field coming off a season in which he recorded just 13 tackles and a sack in his first season back after years of rust. And even though his size will help him, he knows he can’t do anything without making sure his commitment in the classroom is taken care of, first. Lyas spoke about his priorities and on his Xecutives invite following a sensational Ignite camp in January.
“It was great–I honestly wasn’t expecting to do that good. Just the fun of everyone out there competing with one goal–and that’s to get better for them and their teams and that’s what drove me.” said Lyas regarding Ignite. Regarding his order of operation for the offseason, Lyas’ list is pretty simple and poignantly direct; “First of all–I’m working on my academics–working on my grades. Second–I’m working on gaining weight. Third–I’m working on my pass-rushing skills.”
Lyas knows that his Durant team is fully-loaded following their “year ahead of schedule” (our words, not theirs) season in 2015–and they’ll need all hands working together in that district for certain. With just three weeks left in the season in 2015, Durant was seemingly headed for the postseason in one of the regions’ toughest groups with a 6-1 record, but couldn’t close the deal finishing 6-4 and home watching the playoffs. That experience is one that Lyas feels shaped himself and his teammates, and that 2016 should be one with proof that learning has taken place from the mistakes. Those sophomores and juniors everywhere on the roster last season are a year older–and wiser–especially in terms of leadership and accountability, so the foundation for success is in place.
When asked about that foundation, Lyas concurs: “That’s absolutely accurate. It really is–last year there was only eight or nine graduating seniors so pretty much the entire offense and defense was pretty much sophomore and juniors. Going into the season with all those guys juniors and seniors we have a better bond.” said Lyas.
Not lost in this is the fact that Lyas still has to go home to a set of parents that aren’t going to take kindly to excuses and why the job(s) assigned to him haven’t been done. What structure he doesn’t get at school and practice, he certainly gets on the home front. Still, Lyas proves that no matter what kind of rules are in place, he’s still a kid–even if he’s growing into a grown man literally overnight. Although sometimes things come up, his folks definitely see to it that his schedule–and theirs for that matter–stay on track.
“Everything’s structured. Everything’s scheduled. They get angry for sure when the plans don’t go as they’re supposed to–sometimes if there’s one thing planned and then another thing comes up, they most likely blame it on me (laughing)–and I’ll blame it on myself because I’ve should have told them about it earlier.”
One thing that his parents can’t get upset about–one that makes a few people happy in fact–especially if they’re a local grocer and/or restaurant owner in the vicinity of Lyas’ household is the food bill, because a man’s–ERR–a growing boy has to eat, right? Now might be the time to buy stock in Publix or one of those types of companies because his mission at the moment is very simple. “I eat everything…everything.”