BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BUCKNELL UNIVERSITY
Mark Pyles doesn’t really want to hear anything about being ahead of schedule. Such rhetoric suggests limitations, preconceived notions and time constraints.
All of which are the furthest things from what Pyles stands for.
By most people’s standards, Pyles is ahead of schedule. Not only is he starting as a sophomore for a major college football program, he’s also the team’s second leading tackler.
As has become his M.O., Pyles, a highly decorated 2014 graduate of Lebanon High School, is making an early impact as an outside linebacker on the Bucknell University football team. Not sure what you or I expected, but pretty much what Pyles did.
“Coming in my freshman year, I was behind two great senior linebackers, who graduated,” said Pyles, during a phone interview from Lewisburg on Monday. “I had a great opportunity to learn under them. And I definitely learned a lot from them. I don’t look at it as being ahead of schedule. Opportunities come to those who work hard.
“Looking at it now, starting on defense for a Division One-AA college program is an accomplishment,” Pyles continued. “But never set the bar low. I’m not stopping here.”
Pyles has started all of Bucknell’s four games this season, and has helped the Bison to a 3-1 start. Pyles has recorded 32 total tackles, 14 of which were of the solo variety, and two-and-a-half of which were tackles for loss.
“In our system, a 4-2-5, linebackers are primarily responsible for run first, depending on the down and distance,” said Pyles. “Depending on what the call is, I might man-up on a back or drop into zone. We throw a lot at our opponents. That makes their jobs harder and our’s a little easier. My job is to help communicate on the defense. Blitz, drop in coverage or play the run.
“Starting my first couple of games, it’s a huge jump from the high school level,” added Pyles. “As long as everyone does their job, it should be OK. There’s not much of a learning curve. It’s more physical. Everyone is bigger and faster and stronger. The size and speed is a lot different. It’s a big change. But once you get used to it, everything goes well.”
Pyles earned his starting position through hard work. He put his time in this summer, and worked out like it was his job.
“I think it played a big role in it,” said Pyles, who was Pennsylvania’s Player of the Year during his senior season as a Cedar. “I’m sure everyone on our team worked hard this summer. I feel I definitely did my part. That preparation allowed me to grasp that starting role in training camp.
“It definitely takes a lot of work,” Pyles continued. “I didn’t do much this summer besides train, lift and work. I studied my playbook and made my body as fit as I possibly could. That’s what should be expected of college athletes. I did my job over the summer.”
But his work over the summer was just business as usual for Pyles. He was named the team’s strength and conditioning MVP at the conclusion of Bucknell’s spring camp.
Last season as a freshman, Pyles appeared in all 11 Bison games, on defense and on special teams, and was credited with nine tackles.
“In spring, I was getting more of the reps,” said Pyles. “But I had some competition. They moved a junior down from safety during training camp. They kept it (the starting position) open. I just did what I had to do, and solidified it in (summer) training camp. Now I’m running with it.
“Our coaches preach it all the time, ‘There’s always competition’,” Pyles added. “You can’t be complacent. There’s always something you could be doing to get better. You’ve got to have that motivation to work hard and keep your spot. And competition will make you better.”
And here’s something else about Pyles that shouldn’t surprise you: He’s emerging as one of Bucknell’s leaders. It would seem Pyles’ natural born tendencies as a leader trump his team standing as a sophomore.
“On a college football team, there is a sense of seniority,” said Pyles. “But no matter what age you are, you can be a leader. People respect hard work. I just need to be a little more vocal. I don’t think it matters about age.
“I speak up as much as I always have,” continued Pyles. “There’s definitely not a sense of not speaking up. If someone criticizes you, you take it and learn from it. It’s nothing personal. It’s all about improving for the team.”
Coming into the season, Pyles set his own personal team and individual goals for the Bison. He is certainly more open and vocal about his expectations for the team.
“I think that’s something every player thinks about,” said Pyles, who also starred at quarterback for Lebanon in high school. “I have a couple in mind. But my goal is to win next week. I really don’t share my individual goals. I want to go out there and play well everyday, but that’s more of a team goal.
“I simply want to be the best player I can be, I want to be the best teammate I can be and I want to be the best leader I can be,” added Pyles. “I want to help my team improve, and hopefully win a couple of championships when I’m here.”
So things are going pretty much as Pyles had planned, had hoped, had dreamed. If there is one thing he misses, it’s playing on both sides of the ball.
“We’re 3-1. Everything is going well right now,” said Pyles. “We’ve won some close games. I think that speaks to the character of the team. Our role is to do our job every play and believe in each other. You have your assignment every play. You have to trust that everyone is going to do their assignment.
“Yeah, there’s times I miss playing quarterback,” concluded Pyles. “I miss throwing the ball around. But defense is my first love. I always hit people when I was playing offense, but I’d rather hit people on the defensive side of the ball.”
2015 Bucknell Football Schedule
|Sat, Sep 05||Marist||Lewisburg, Pa.||6:00 PM||17 – 0(W)|
|Sat, Sep 12||Duquesne||Lewisburg, Pa.||6:00 PM||7 – 26(L)|
|Sat, Sep 19||Cornell||Ithaca, N.Y.||3:00 PM||19 – 14(W)|
|Sat, Oct 03||VMI||Lexington, Va.||1:30 PM||28 – 22(W) OT|
|Sat, Oct 10||Lehigh *||Lewisburg, Pa.||1:00 PM|
|Sat, Oct 17||Army West Point||West Point, N.Y.||12:00 PM|
|Sat, Oct 24||Georgetown *||Lewisburg, Pa.||1:00 PM|
|Sat, Oct 31||Lafayette *||Easton, Pa.||3:30 PM|
|Sat, Nov 07||Fordham *||Bronx, N.Y.||1:00 PM|
|Sat, Nov 14||Holy Cross *||Lewisburg, Pa.||1:00 PM|
|Sat, Nov 21||Colgate *||Hamilton, N.Y.||1:00 PM|