When Tristen Lyons steps on the field, he sees opposing players who take note of his size and think they’re going to crush him.
The looks motivate State College’s 5-foot-6 running back to prove he doesn’t solely rely on his quickness. He can fight for the extra yard and he can take the hits every Friday night.
“I just kind of go out there and show ’em,” Lyons said. “No, I’m not that type of back.”
With that mentality, the senior is having the best season of his career with 840 rushing yards and a team-high 14 touchdowns. He’s contributed to the rushing attack since his sophomore season, but he’s now leading the way heading into State College’s PIAA Class 6A subregional against Erie on Friday night at Clarion University.
The Little Lions running back has continued to improve since the start of the year and finished the regular season with four straight 100-yard games. After waiting behind Jordan Misher as a sophomore and complementing Pete Haffner as a junior, Lyons is finally State College’s starting running back this season.
And Little Lions coach Matt Lintal said the senior has been a “different beast” on the field in the second half of the season.
“I think it’s a confidence and an understanding that your time is limited,” Lintal said. “You only get so many of these opportunities to go out on Friday nights, and I think it was that sense of urgency.”
Lyons first burst onto the scene during his sophomore season with a 227-yard game in a win over Central Dauphin East. Filling in for Misher that night, Lyons showed his potential in his first start at the varsity level. Lintal can still recall the exact yardage from that unforgettable performance, and Lyons still smiles at the mention of Central Dauphin East. The running back’s best game this season fittingly came against the Panthers, starting his streak of four straight 100-yard games.
He finished with 151 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries in the team’s 34-14 win on Oct. 13 over Central Dauphin East.
“It was kind of like a flashback,” Lyons said. “When I saw the roll I was going on, I was like, ‘I can go over 200 again.’”
State College didn’t need Lyons to rush for more than 200 yards that night — but the Little Lions started to rely on the senior to carry the load as the team’s top running back. Lintal noted sophomore running back Isaiah Edwards (512 yards rushing; 13 touchdowns) put some pressure on Lyons this year with his success, but since Lyons became “the guy” at running back, he’s thrived. He’s not the same running back he was as a 155-pound sophomore. He’s still quick, but he’s also powerful at 175 pounds after dedicating himself to the weight room.
“He’s been really grinding this year and trying to do big things,” State College wide receiver Brandon Clark said.
Lyons focused on running with a lower pad level and falling forward when he’s tackled this season.
“I’m more physical in practice instead of always trying to make a cut,” Lyons said. “Sometimes I didn’t lower my shoulder and get in the end zone if it’s like a third-and-1 or fourth-and-goal.”
Even though Lyons was productive during the previous two years, he’s been a different player this season. He’s matured, become more physical and taken on a leadership role. The senior even met with football players in eighth and ninth grade and sounded like the State College coaches while inspiring future Little Lions.
“People think, ‘Oh, I’m too small,’” Lyons said. “I’m like, ‘Look if you work hard at it, I’m 5-6, I’m probably the smallest back you’ll see around. If you work hard at it, you stay dedicated to it, you’ll be able to accomplish it.’”