Wes Lyons’ Legacy Grows Past Football
We didn’t get to know or understand Wes Lyons when he was at West Virginia University.
To us, he was a football player, one to look up to, so to speak, but we looked up to him for the wrong reason.
He was 6-feet, 8-inches tall.
Somehow, we expected big things from him on the football field but in many ways that was missing the reality of the man himself.
As a football player, he was the wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In four years he caught only 42 passes, the longest just 29 yards, never scoring a touchdown… but he played for Rich Rodriguez in a run heavy offense and then for Bill Stewart on a team where the big receiver was a 5-foot-7 Jock Sanders.
It was Geno Smith’s freshman year, Tavon Austin’s freshman year and it was a year too early, before the aerial game would become featured.
He was more talented than he ever was allowed to show and might have shined athletically far better elsewhere, but his potential was seen by the NFL and he did get himself a free agent contract, although he never made a roster.
Many players like that come through Morgantown… here today, gone tomorrow.
But Wes Lyons wasn’t the typical one. We, as fans and sportswriters and broadcasters, looked at him as an athlete, which is what we tend to do, and failed to notice the person behind the facemask.
Lyons was special. He graduated a semester early. He had been raised properly, was interested in his academics and, moreso, in making the most out of the person he was rather than the athlete those around him wanted to be.
He found himself once he escaped the locker room, became a force back home in Pittsburgh as an author, and as an inspirational voice in the community.
He cared about the youth and did something about it.
In 2013 he was named one of Pittsburgh’s Finest and the next year he was selected as one of that city’s most successful young professionals under 30.
Lyons’ website explains that in 2013 he developed an education program called “The Pursuit,” a curriculum “designed to prepare students for academic success and enhance the student’s skills in decision-making, writing and communication and comprehension to become a successful individual and life-long learner.”
Targeted to learn these life skills are high-risk students in grades six through 12, hoping to allow them to overcome obstacles they are sure to face along the way.
That led to his book, “The Pursuit with Patience” that advanced his theories.
It is now five years later and Lyons remains active in the community, working with youth, trying to bring out in them the side that emerged within himself and led him to life after football.
A new dimension to the program was added last week when Lyons and long-time friend and business partner Amber Greene opened “Cakery Square”, which is part of the Bakery Square project at The Waterfront in Homestead.
The Bakery Square project is at the site of the old Nabisco bakery that closed in 1998 after being there for 80 years.
This new venture has nothing to do with Lyons satisfying his craving for sweets for, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week that he isn’t one much for sweets, but he is using the project to provide sweetness to some of the kids he’s trying to reach.
He includes four of his program’s participants in running Cakery Square, participants who are performing such duties as waiting on customers, working the registers, cleaning and taking out the garbage or whatever else is required while five bakers provide the goodies.
According to Lyons, he didn’t go recruit the kids he’s brought in, they came to him and in such numbers that those who weren’t hired have volunteered to help.
The idea for the bakery, Lyons told the Post-Gazette, grew out of dessert tastings he hosted over the years in promoting “The Pursuit”, the program that has grown to more than 250 students in 14 schools.
His idea was to provide them with a retail store in which they could develop their skills after school and on weekends.
From the first returns that are coming in it appears that Lyons finally has scored a touchdown — and it means more than just seven points on a scoreboard.