BY JEFF FALK
LEWISBURG – What do you do on Saturday afternoons?
Spend some time with family? Tackle a few projects? Simply enjoy the fruits of your labor?
Mark Pyles does all that and more – all while living his dream.
Yesterday at Bucknell University’s Christy Matthewson Memorial Stadium was a pretty typical Saturday afternoon in the life of Pyles. And it was very apparent that not only is he existing within the confines of that dream, he is also flourishing and excelling.
Pyles, a junior linebacker out of Lebanon High, spearheaded a Bison football defense that propelled Bucknell to a 42-17 triumph over Lafayette. From his inside linebacker spot, Pyles was all over the field, recording six solo tackles and nine total stops, while breaking up two pass attempts.
Competing on nearly every defensive down – including some on the punt team – Pyles played both hard and smart. As has become his M.O., he never took a down off.
With the result, the Bison improved to 3-4 overall and 2-1 in the Patriot League. On the other side, Lebanon Catholic product Frank Tavani’s Leopards fell to 1-7 on the year and 0-3 in the league.
“I really have no idea what I’d be doing on Saturday afternoons,” said Pyles, who has been playing football for the better part of 14 falls, including four as a Cedar. “Being at a school like this, I guess I would be studying. Honestly, I don’t want to think about it. Right now, I’m a football player. That’s what I look forward to.
“My early memories are definitely of Friendship football,” continued Pyles. “My earliest recollection was being a fullback and a linebacker. I was bigger than everyone else then and running over everyone. I remember my dad telling me I was going to be a good player one day. I wasn’t too good when I first started, but I guess I’ve evolved as a player a little bit.”
On this particular Saturday, Pyles’ Bison jumped out to a 21-3 lead early in the second half, only to see Lafayette pull to within four points with a pair of touchdowns 1:23 apart. But Bucknell regained its stride in the fourth quarter, where it outscored the Leopards 21-0.
Pyles and the defense limited Lafayette to just 268 yards of total offense. The Leopards managed just 53 yards on the ground.
“We came out with a lot of confidence,” said Pyles, after greeting family and friends post-game. “We started strong. We had a little lapse, but nothing too big. Other than a few missed assignments, I thought the defense had a great game. We stopped the running game, got after the quarterback and were just flying around out there.
“I thought I had a pretty good game,” Pyles continued. “My job is to go out there and do my assignment every play. Bucknell has always been known for its defense. We’ve had a couple of solid games. As a whole, throughout the season, our defense has been playing with a lot of heart. The key to our defense is playing assignment football. Don’t try to make plays you’re not supposed to make, and trust your teammates. We’re doing what we can to get wins.”
Through his unrelenting work ethic, Pyles became a leader early on at Bucknell. He is in his second season as a starter, and his first year as a captain.
A 2014 graduate of Lebanon High, Pyles was all-Patriot League preseason selection this year after leading the Bison in tackles last season. The 6-0, 220-pound Pyles has now played in 27 career games for Bucknell, after being named the program’s strength and conditioning MVP after the 2015 and 2016 spring practice sessions.
This fall, Pyles has recorded a total of 33 tackles, 21 of which have been of the solo variety. His career totals include 137 total tackles and 77 solos.
“My thing has always been leading by example,” said Pyles, 20. “But when you’re considered to be a leader at this level, in every aspect of life, you’ve got to lead by example. That’s my role, and to motivate my teammates.
“There’s definitely a process,” added Pyles. “I haven’t always been the most vocal person. But I think I’ve learned how to speak my voice.”
Pyles high school career at Lebanon was the stuff legends are made of.
Competing on both sides of the ball, Pyles was named the Pennsylvania Class AAAA all-state quarterback during his senior season as a Cedar. He also garnered the prestigious Maxwell Football Club Pennsylvania Player-of-the-Year award and the Jim Henry award that year.
But coming out of Lebanon, there was really no other choice for Pyles than Bucknell.
“I completely agree,” said Pyles. “Especially when you consider the coaching staff, my teammates, my role on the team. I don’t think I could’ve made a better decision.
“I think pretty much everyone on the college level has that mindset,” Pyles added. “It’s going to end sometime. You’ve got to relish every moment.”
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Mark Pyles’ Career Statistics
PATRIOT LEAGUE STANDINGS