Former Mississippi College Choctaw is enjoying success in the CFL, by Corey Rholdon, Sport Editor
Former Mississippi College football star Chris Lyles is enjoying success in the Canadian Football League. Lyles signed a two year deal with the Saskatchewan Roughriders last May after he was released from the Indianapolis Colts rookie mini-camp.
The main goal for Chris Lyles is to one day reach the NFL, but for right now he is blessed and excited for his opportunities in the CFL. “I have one more season of my contract for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders because I signed a two year contract. So I want to finish my last season strong and the main goal is the NFL. That is where I am trying to go but the CFL has made me stronger, and it has made me appreciate the time that I am putting in. The good thing is that God is good, and if the NFL doesn’t work I could have a long CFL career” Lyles said.
Lyles played two seasons for the Choctaws where he had two interceptions and 7 pass break ups. He acknowledges that Mississippi College has helped him become the leader he is today. “Mississippi College taught me how to be a leader, someone who leads by example” Lyles said.
Professional football atmospheres are intense and it took Lyles a little while to get over that fear of playing in front of a huge crowd. “The first game I was really nervous. It was a preseason game against our rival the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It was a sold out crowd, they had 30,000 people, and I have never played in front of a crowd like that before. I never have played in a quarter of the size of that crowd. I am not going to lie I was tickled, I was scared, I was nervous but that game really made a man out of me. It made me decide if I really wanted to play professional football or not” said Lyles.
Chris Lyles grew accustomed to playing in front of the “best fans in Canada”. It made him feel like he was playing in the NFL already. “Our environment is the best, we have the best fans in Canada. We had the best attendance in the CFL last season. That environment will scare you sometimes because how loud they are and how much they love you. At the same time they do not want to see you fail, they are behind you,” Lyles said. “I did real well in a game, and all these kids were screaming my name. They were like Mr. Lyles and I just gave them my gloves. I was like a hero to them and it was like playing in the NFL,” Lyles stated.
Canadian football and American football have some differences, and it took time for Lyles to adjust. “The field size in the CFL is a lot longer than American football. Formations are different, their receivers can move off of the line so I had to adjust. I had to use my brain more and it’s wasn’t about how athletic you are. It’s about technique. It is more of a technique type of game” Lyles said.
Lyles had to get out of his comfort zone in Saskatchewan, where he had to play the halfback position instead of cornerback. “In the CFL there is 12 guys on the field instead of 11, and I played a Nickle back or safety type position. That position is one of the hardest positions on the field. I was in that position because I was athletic enough and quick enough to play it. When I got there I had to adjust to the big field and there was a lot ground to cover. Halfback is a tough position but I like it,” Lyles said.
Adjusting to football wasn’t the only thing Lyles had to do. He also was adjusting to life north of the border. “Being so young and being so far away from home. It was tough but I had to adjust… The people were very different, it was a big variety of people, and at first I was uncomfortable because I did not know anybody. I really did not have anybody to relate to, but they still made me feel at home. They welcomed me with open arms” said Lyles.
His whole football career Chris Lyles relied on his athletic ability. Standing at 6’4 and weighing 194 pounds, Lyles was the perfect size for an NFL cornerback. His speed and athleticism is even more impressive. At his pro day, Lyles ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, had an 11’ board jump, and had a 39 inch vertical. But in the CFL Chris Lyles could not just rely on his abilities anymore, he needed to learn technique and become a student of the game.
“When I was in college I was so into my athleticism. I depended on my speed and my gifts for everything, but in the pro’s everyone is athletic and has talent. There is no way to beat someone without watching film and having great technique” said Lyles.
Lyles learned how to be a pro quickly, as professional practices are intense as they come. “CFL practices were very competitive and it is always the 1’s vs the 1’s. There was a lot of real game situations, and scheming against the other team” said Lyles. “We focused on their scheme and their key players. We watched filmed every day in the morning, and after practice. So it was film film film…” Lyles said.
If practices were hard, learning the playbook was even harder, as professional playbooks never stop growing. “The playbook was big. We changed plays after every week and there was a new playbook after every week. It was according to what the other team was doing, so one week we would be playing pattern reading, another week we would be playing man, and the next week we would be playing a cover 4/cover 2 type coverage” said Lyles.
In professional football, there are moments when you realize that you are playing against the world’s best athletes. Chris Lyles had that moment in his rookie season’s finale. “Last game of the season we played the Ottawa Redblacks and they moved me back to corner for the first time. There was a receiver who was really quick and fast. He gave me a welcome home, he was catching some passes and I said to myself that I need to “bow up” and I had to figure this out. I knew I couldn’t get down on myself, and I had to be strong” Lyles said.
After a moment like that, rookies can question if they belong in the league, but Chris Lyles remembered that he can play with these guys. He first realized that in the preseason where he stepped up when his team needed him. “It was the second preseason game and we played a great team called the BC Lions. We were in Vancouver we were getting beat kind of bad and our coaches were like we need someone to step up. Something went through me in that moment and I had my Father (God) with me. I made great plays, I had great tackles, forced fumbles and I had a real good game. That’s what showed me that I could play with the best” Lyles said.
Chris Lyles hopes his second CFL season is better than his first. His ultimate goal is to play in the NFL, and there has been a long line of CFL players who transitioned to the NFL. If Lyles keeps playing well, Mississippi College might have a Choctaw in the League.