BY JEFF FALK
He has been playing the sport all of his life.
He started when he was seven, with the Friendship Chiefs in the Lebanon Valley Midget League. He competed in the junior high and varsity programs in the Lebanon school district.
He then went on to play on the Division One level at Bucknell University.
He’s always kind of been an under-sized overachiever. But he’s always excelled, no matter what level he’s competed on.
Now Mark Pyles’ playing days on the football field are very much in doubt. You’ll have to excuse him if he’s doing everything in his power to continue playing the game that has become ingrained as part of his being.
It may be that the powers to be don’t afford him the opportunity to extend his playing days. But he has to try, because if nothing else, that’s the course of action Pyles has always taken.
“I’ve been playing football for 15 years,” said Pyles. “And I’ve been working up to this all my life. It’s been a long process. I’ve had to work with what I’ve got. Football is something I never want to lose touch with, whether it’s playing, being an active fan or perhaps coaching some day.
“Football has taught me so much,” continued Pyles. “It has molded me into the person I am today. Just the relationships I have built through football have been amazing. Getting an opportunity to participate in this pro day was unbelievable. The worst thing a person can say to you is ‘No’.”
On Monday at Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pyles and another senior member of the Bisons’ football team, participated in the university’s pro day, a two-hour workout in front of seven NFL scouts. While there are other options for him to continue his playing days, Pyles seems resigned to the fact that that day could’ve been his last of organized football – even though it’s the last thing he wants.
“I think anyone’s going to be nervous,” said Pyles. “I always try to stay in shape and work out, and I had a little bit of an injury I was rehabbing. Things didn’t turn out the way I hoped, but I’m glad I gave it a shot. There’s still an opportunity to get a shot to play.
“In football terms, after yesterday, it’s wait and see,” Pyles continued. “It’s just waiting to hear if anything comes out of this. All I’m looking for is a shot. I’m not going to get drafted. Let’s just put that out there. I just want to show what I have. If I can get on a field somewhere in front of some people, that would be great.”
With his Bison teammates and coaches cheering him on, the pro scouts put Pyles through drills that included a 225-pound bench test, vertical and broad jumps, a timed 40-yard dash, a 20-yard shuttle, a three-cone agility test and position-specific drills. Pyles’ senior season concluded on November 18.
“It could’ve been better, for sure,” said Pyles. “I went out there and tried my best. I didn’t run as well as I wanted to. But with my teammates and coaches there, it was a cool atmosphere, a cool experience.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a pretty good career,” added Pyles. “I have no regrets. If I wouldn’t have given it one more shot, I would’ve had regrets.”
During his senior year as a linebacker, Bucknell went 5-6 and Pyles finished second on the team in tackles with 73 and solo stops with 40, and he recorded eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four defended passes and an interception. A first-team All-Patriot League performer as a senior, the 6-0, 220-pound Pyles registered 231 career tackles, 19 career tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
He appeared in 42 of a possible 44 games over his four years at Bucknell. Pyles also served as a Bison captain for two seasons.
“My biggest strength comes in the communication aspect,” said Pyles. “As the game elevates, I was relied on to be a vocal leader of the defense. Just bringing everyone along with me. I have a knowledge of the game and the ability to communicate to others.
“The biggest thing people look at is my size,” Pyles added. “I’m certainly looked at as an undersized linebacker. It’s something I’m used to. You’ve got to play with what you’re dealt. Straight-line speed, like in the 40, which translates to the field, it’s something those guys (scouts) look at a lot.”
As a senior at Lebanon High School, Pyles enjoyed one of the most prolific seasons in the history of Lebanon County football, led the Cedars to the District Three playoffs and ultimately competed in the prestigious Big 33 Classic in Hershey. Pyles also starred in the classroom at both Lebanon and Bucknell.
“I’m definitely prepared for that,” said Pyles, who will graduate in May with a degree in Economics, of a future without football. “My support, and the education I have gained have definitely prepared me for life after football.
“A lot of guys with Economics degrees go into finances or financial analysis,” continued Pyles. “I’ve done interviews in that area. It’s something I could see myself doing in the future.”
But no matter what the future holds for Pyles, he will try real hard.