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 Friday to youngsters in the third through sixth grades.
“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. “That’s good,” Lyons said. “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 at the University of Alabama under Coach 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.”
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 said 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.”
Kennebec Journal Writer Matt DiFilippo can be contacted at 861-9243, or at: