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Football: After year lost to injury, Lyerly making a difference for North
North Forsyth senior Dylan Lyerly, left, makes a tackle last week during the Raiders' 38-8 win against Alcovy. Lyerly won a state championship in wrestling as a sophomore but tore his ACL during his junior football season. Now healthy, Lyerly is happy to be back on the field with his teammates. - photo by David Roberts

By Noah Rubin

For the Forsyth County News

Energetic. Enthusiastic. Selfless.

Those are all words that describe North Forsyth senior Dylan Lyerly, who has truly cemented his legacy with the Raiders through the first three years of his high school career. 

He’s experienced the highest of highs [winning state in wrestling as a sophomore], and the lowest of lows [tearing his ACL in the second game of his junior football season].

After missing last season, Lyerly is happier than ever to be back out on the field with his team.

“It feels great to be back out playing, because I missed it,” Lyerly said. “I hated sitting on the sidelines at all the games. I felt like I could do something, but I couldn’t because it was stuck. But it feels good now.”

Lyerly is just as well known on the wrestling mat, though he only started wrestling his freshman year to help him be a better football player. Once the wins started piling up, he truly fell in love with the sport.

His grandpa’s influence was the reason Lyerly decided to play football when he was younger.

“My grandpa definitely pushed me,” Lyerly said. “He would say, ‘If you put your mind to it, you can achieve something; and whatever you do, you’re going to do great in life.’ So, that’s what I’ve taken and learned from him.”

That mindset is something Lyerly seems to have carried onto the mat. Despite beginning his wrestling career much later than his competition, he’s worked hard and been successful quickly.

After a remarkable regular season, Lyerly went into the state tournament his sophomore year with the mindset that he wasn’t satisfied with just being there.

He wanted a ring.

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“I went into it thinking if I can go run through region and run through sectionals then I can win this thing," Lyerly said. "Region 6-7A is probably one of the hardest regions for wrestling. You have West, Lambert, South, and Denmark, so I thought if I can do this, then I can win.”

After defeating Camden County’s Garrett Gaston in the semifinals, Lyerly wrestled Lambert’s Thomas Dossett, who he’d already faced multiple times that the season. Lyerly said the familiarity of his opponent gave him confidence going into the championship match.

Lyerly defeated Dossett with an overtime takedown, finishing his sophomore season with a 46-5 record, and was crowned state champion of the 220-pound weight class.

North Forsyth sophomore Dylan Lyerly hugs his coaches after defeating Lambert's Thomas Dossett in overtime for the Class 7A 220-pound championship on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. - photo by David Almeda

“It felt exhilarating,” Lyerly said. “It was a big accomplishment. My family and friends were there and excited. It felt really good to do. Now we have another state champion in Bentley Wheeler. He’s a phenomenal wrestler and the one who made me keep wrestling, because I wanted to quit after my freshman year. He told me to just stick with it, and I’d be good.”

Wheeler won state in the 152-pound weight class last season, and his leadership to encourage Lyerly to continue his wrestling career likely will pay dividends for North this upcoming season.

After hitting one of the highest peaks you can reach as a high school athlete, Lyerly faced one of the deepest valleys only seven months later.

Playing against Harrison in their second game of the season, Lyerly injured his knee just before halftime. The pain he felt didn’t get him off the field immediately. He actually stayed in the game and played a few more downs before eventually coming out.

“When I finally came out, it was painful and hard to walk,” Lyerly said. “I thought, ‘What just happened? Was this it?’ It stressed me out.”

He had torn his ACL, essentially ending his junior year before it had truly gotten started.

“When I found out the diagnosis, I was heartbroken,” Lyerly said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to miss out on a big year for recruiting, because everyone knows that junior year is the year that recruiting happens. This is the end of the world. My life’s over.’”

It ended up being a tough year for him. After a superb wrestling season, Lyerly had high expectations for his junior year. He struggled to be around his team because of how bad he wanted to be competing with them.

Lyerly focused all of his energy and drive into rehabilitating his knee. He hated being away from the teams and sports he loved, so the quicker his knee was healthy, the quicker he could be back.

“It was grueling and repetitive,” Lyerly admitted. “For a month straight I was doing the same thing over and over. Then I just started flying and going as fast as I could to get back. I got back in 5 ½ months when it was supposed to be around eight.”

Head football coach Robert Craft spoke highly of Lyerly both on and off the field.

“His best attribute is his energy,” Craft said. “He truly loves playing the game. He loves being a part of the team. He’s really the guy that fuels the energy and enthusiasm on our team.”

Lyerly is already making a difference for the Raiders. In Week 1 against Alcovy, North's senior edge linebacker made three tackles and hurried the quarterback twice. In North's scrimmage against Dawson County, he sacked the quarterback twice.

Lyerly’s goal for his senior football season lines right up with how Craft described him: a team-first, selfless player.

“For football, I’m trying to be that uplifting spirit and help the team out and be a ball hawk and be everywhere I can be,” Lyerly said. “If my teammates make plays, I’m right there to hype them up and give that energy.”

Maybe the confidence comes from his belief in his team. Maybe it comes from the ring that sits by itself in his room. But Lyerly was clear about wanting to add to his ring collection this wrestling season.

“I feel like we have a great shot to win team state, which would be great for Coach [Travis] Jarrard," Lyerly said. "He’s gotten close, but I feel like this year, this team has a great chance to go do it and run the table. And I want to go win another individual state championship. I want to have that. I want to show that I did it, and it wasn’t just a one-time fluke.”

After going through the ringer to get back on the field, Lyerly isn’t going to let the opportunity pass him by. He’s still trying to get film out to college coaches so he can continue his playing career after high school, but he’s locked in at the task at hand.

Craft is excited to have him back and to see what he brings to the team this year.

“He’s competed at the highest level with the state championship he won, and I love that,” Craft said. “It doesn’t matter what sport it’s in, it carries over. No moment is too big for him, which is why I know he’s looking forward to being a part of more than he was last year.”

Things are coming full circle for Lyerly, as the Raiders play Harrison on Friday, the same team the Raiders played against last season when he injured his knee.

But it doesn’t really matter who he’s lining up against on a Friday night. It’s a guarantee that Lyerly is going to give it everything he has every single down.