HAMMOND — A pulled hamstring and a coaching change brought Max Lyons all the way from the West Coast to Louisiana.
He’s more than 1,860 of miles away from his home state of California, but Lyons wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I only had about two days to get ready to come,” he said. “I came, I liked it, stayed out here. Haven’t been home.”
Lyons has been on a lengthy journey — literally and figuratively — for his football career. But the long-haired, energetic senior safety for Southeastern Louisiana is flourishing in his new Hammond home, racking up 62 total tackles this year, second-best in the Southland Conference.
“It’s a lot different from Los Angeles. It’s a lot slower. But the town out here, Hammond is great to me,” Lyons said. “A lot of people recognize me from football. I like it a lot.”
The change of pace all started with that pulled hamstring.
A product of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, Lyons finished his prep career in 2012 with no scholarship offers. He enrolled at Los Angeles Pierce College, a junior college in the LA suburb of Woodland Hills, and picked up a scholarship from Portland State after one season.
Lyons went through spring and summer practices with Portland State and even played in the Vikings’ first two games. But during practices for Week 3, Lyons pulled his hamstring — and re-injured it a couple more times thereafter. He qualified for a medical redshirt.
Portland State cleaned out its coaching staff following a 3-9 season in 2014. Lyons said he and the new coaches didn’t quite mesh, so they gave him permission to look elsewhere.
“I played corner at the time. They didn’t like my style of play at corner,” he said. “It’s nothing against them. They told me (how it was) like a man, and I told them, ‘OK,’ and they let me leave.”
Lyons went back to the junior college ranks, playing a season at Santa Monica College in California. In his lone campaign there, he tallied 45 tackles, three interceptions, five pass breakups and one forced fumble.
And then one day, Southeastern assistant coach Aaron Schwanz called “out of nowhere at like 10 o’clock at night,” Lyons said.
Lyons hesitated at first. He wasn’t sure about abandoning California for Louisiana. Southeastern also had to wait for a scholarship to open up so they could officially offer Lyons a roster spot.
Once a scholarship did open up, Lyons still needed to think about it. But before he knew it, Southeastern coach Ron Roberts was calling and texting him.
The enthusiasm from the coaching staff was all he needed. He never even visited the campus before making his decision.
“It just felt like a family feeling out here,” Lyons said. “They liked me for who I was. They didn’t want to change too much about my game.”
Lyons fit in quickly with his new “family.”
He started all 11 of Southeastern’s games in 2016, finishing second on the team with 73 tackles and earning honorable mention All-Southland Conference honors. His 16 stops against Central Arkansas were the most by any Lion last year.
Roberts said Lyons leads by example and has a zeal for the game that never fades, even at practice on a Tuesday.
“He’s kind of like the Energizer Bunny out there,” Roberts said. “He plays the game hard. He plays the game the way you want it to be played. He’s got a passion for football. He brings it every day.”
This year, Lyons is picking up right where he left off. He’s already on pace to break his tackle total from a year ago, he racked up a season-high 17 stops against Bethune-Cookman, and he’s second on the squad with two interceptions.
Lyons said the coaching staff has put him in position this season to be around the ball more, like moving him closer to the line of scrimmage and blitzing him more frequently. He said he’s also “bigger, faster, stronger,” which usually helps.
Roberts said Lyons is at his best when he’s closer to the line of scrimmage, but is versatile enough to handle any assignment.
“He can do a lot of things, and that’s kind of what we do with him,” Roberts said. “He can blitz. He can cover. He tackles well in space. He can do a lot of things for us.”
“Do a lot of things” sounds like the right phrase to describe a guy who had to fly across the country to continue his playing career.
It comes naturally for a guy who can’t imagine life without football, whether it’s being played in Los Angeles, California, or Hammond, Louisiana.
“Going out there and playing with my brothers every day, it’s a blessing,” Lyons said. “I love it. I love what I’m doing. I just want to keep it going.”