OAKLAND — The 10 kids at the Camp Tracy Youth Football Camp are too young to remember Marty Lyons as part of the “New York Sack Exchange.” But the words “former NFL player” always get the attention of aspiring football players.

Lyons, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year and was a defensive tackle with the New York Jets from 1979-89, gave football instructions at the camp to youngsters in third through sixth grade Friday afternoon.

“The biggest thing I try to tell kids at any age is that they can accomplish anything they want in life, as long as they believe in themselves,” Lyons said. “My big thing is to try to give the kids something to think about, try to give them an opportunity to ask questions, answer them truthfully, and let them know: Continue to chase your dreams.”

The first drill for the players was to fire out from a defensive stance. Lyons liked what he saw from 11-year-old Ben Calloway and praised Ben after making sure of his name.

“That’s good,” Lyons said. “What is it, Ben? Good job, Ben!”

“It was cool,” Ben said. “I thought I was really good at it when he did that to me.”

Lyons mixed instruction with positive encouragement during the afternoon, often patting the youngsters on the helmet. At age 54, Lyons still maneuvered through the drills easily.

He called one of his drills the “four-corner drill,” where the players had to run around upright bags forward, sideways and backward.

“Remember, the game of football is a game of direction, sometimes misdirections,” Lyons told the players.

Lyons played college ball for the University of Alabama under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who won 323 games in his career.

“He wasn’t just a good coach, he was a great teacher,” Lyons said. “My freshman year, Coach Bryant said there were four things he wanted us to accomplish at the university: No. 1, always be proud of your family. No. 2, always be proud of your religion. No. 3, get an education. No. 4, if we have time, let’s try to win some football games.”

In 1978, Lyons’ senior season, Alabama won the national championship by defeating Penn State 14-7 in the Sugar Bowl. In the fourth quarter of that game, Penn St. had a fourth down inside the Alabama 1-yard-line, and Penn St. quarterback Chuck Fusina asked Lyons what his team should do. Lyons replied, “I think you better throw the ball.” Penn St. ran the ball and was stopped short of the goal line.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” Lyons said, “until the reporters after the game said, ‘Hey, what did you tell Chuck?’ It’s still a part of Alabama history now. It was not meant as cockiness. It was said in fun, and I turned out to be right.”

Lyons was drafted by the Jets in 1979 and became part of the “Sack Exchange” with Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko and Abdul Salaam. The Jets had 66 sacks in 1981 and made the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

In 1982, Lyons started the Marty Lyons Foundation, which is similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Lyons says his Foundation has helped nearly 6,500 kids and now operates in 13 states.

“When I started it in 1982, I had no money,” Lyons said. “I had six people sitting around the table, and I was chasing a dream about helping as many kids that I could possibly help that were being cheated out of life.

“It just goes to show that if you make a commitment, and you put your mind to doing something and you surround yourself with good people, good things happen.”

That season, the Jets made it to the AFC Championship game, losing 14-0 to the Miami Dolphins. But the Jets had losing records the next two seasons and won only one more playoff game before Lyons retired in 1989.

“They dismantled the team, is the problem,” Lyons said. “It started at the top. We lost Walt Michaels as the head coach — they fired him. Unfortunately, they started taking pieces of the puzzle and throwing them out.

“You ship off (quarterback) Richard Todd down to New Orleans, you ship off part of the defensive line to San Diego, and then all of a sudden, you don’t have that chemistry, you don’t have that continuity. You get so close, you get dismantled, and you start all over again.”

Lyons went on to say how the continuity of the New England Patriots has contributed to their success. Lyons is a radio announcer for the Jets, and he has enjoyed the Jets getting to the AFC Championship game in each of the past two seasons.

“The Jets are for real, and they brought back respectability for players like myself who have been retired for 20 years,” Lyons said. “It’s a great feeling to see the Jets accomplish everything that they have the last two years.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]


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