For walk-on Lyles, Blackout was the best

ATHENS – Normally, by the time Macon's Justin Lyles gets into a Georgia game, half the crowd has gone home, but, that, like so many other things, was different on Nov. 10.

That's the day the Bulldogs beat Auburn 45-20 in their blackout game.

"I hadn't seen such excitement until that game," said Lyles, a walk-on defensive lineman. "There was still a full house, and we were wearing the black jerseys. That was really just icing on the cake."

That game will be Lyles' top memory from his four years with the Bulldogs, he said. It's been a long and mostly thankless four years for the former First Presbyterian standout, but it has had its rewards.

Not the least of which are two awards Lyles received at the team's award banquet two weeks ago. He was named the Bulldogs top offensive scout team player and given the Block of Granite Award, which is given to scout team linemen who survive four years in the program.

"We invented that about three of four years ago because of guys like Justin Lyles," head coach Mark Richt said. "It was for guys that every day are in the trenches, banging heads with guys who are usually a lot bigger and stronger. It's not an easy job."

As a scout team lineman, Lyles spends about two hours every fall afternoon being used as a human blocking sled by the first-team offensive or defensive line. Even on days when the rest of the players in practice don't have full contact, the linemen are hitting hard, Richt said.

"Every day is a battle," Richt said. "It just doesn't change."

It has a change for the 6-foot-2, 289-pound Lyles, who was accustomed to pushing people around at FPD, where he started 37 games in a row and was a three-time Super Viking award winner.

"I like to say I have decent size and strength, but even with that, the guys I'm going against are just that much bigger and that much stronger," Lyles said. "Just the daily grind of that every day. It starts with period one all the way to the end, constant beating and hitting."

When he left FPD, Lyles had some recruiting interest from small schools but decided to walk-on at Georgia, and, throughout the first season, he wondered about that decision.

"I just wasn't sure if this was really for me," he said, "but after I got through the first couple months I really decided this would be good. Really the last couple of years, it has been really rewarding. You just have to build up to that status."

Lyles graduated last week with a double major in housing and consumer economics. He has applied to UGA's master's program for sports management and hopes to begin in the fall, he said. The fact that his athletic career is almost over hasn't hit him yet, he said.

"I just finished classes. I'm not even really used to that yet," he said. "Probably about mid-January is when it will set in, when I'm not coming back and working out, but right now it just seems like a normal year."

The walk-ons who make it through Georgia's program are easy to recommend to employers or other schools, Richt said, because of the qualities they must have in order to do what they do, such as unselfishness, commitment and dedication. Lyles has learned those lessons well, said defensive line coach Rodney Garner.

"He is a great young man," Garner said. "He has been a joy to coach. There's no glory in it other than him just loving Georgia and wanting to help his teammates get better."

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