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Graduation Lies Dead Ahead

Dec. 8, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

It’s not so much a finish line that lies directly ahead of Steven Sylvester and Preston Lyons as it is a zone like those where triathletes transition from wheels to running shoes before another part of what is all the same race.

Graduation lies dead ahead. Change looms. One week from Saturday, Lyons and Sylvester will cease to be Georgia Tech students. These two of the five Tech football players who will graduate (I think Omoregie Uzzi, Chandler Anderson and B.J. Machen are the others) could not have more utterly different plans.

The future’s coming fast, and chances are they will not live it exactly as they’ve dreamt. Only this is now certain: they will leave The Flats burning different flares.

Their stories are not much alike, yet taken side-by-side they merge as testimony that Tech is anything but a football factory churning out sameness even if they will both take Science, History & Technology degrees.

Sylvester next month will begin training at Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth with the goal of landing a shot in the NFL. He wants to remain a linebacker for a while, and then, “My degree has a specialization in sports broadcasting,” he said. “After playing for five or six years, I’d like to do something like David Pollack has.”

Argh! A Dawg.

Moving on . . .

Lyons said, “I have a one-way ticket to Colorado; I’m going skiing with friends. I don’t know for how long. I want to do nothing for a while.”

Lest one think for a moment that Lyons is casting his lot into the wind, know this: he has specialized in history and seems intrigued by suggestions from professors that he pursue a Ph.D. He one day might. “But first, I want to make some money,” he said.

No. First, he’s going skiing.

Lyons said this time between the end of the regular season and the Sun Bowl, when the practice schedule is irregular, and exams and graduation are nearly upon him, “is different.” Pieces of his life are falling away. So much of what he’s been tethered to for the past four years is coming undone.

Since his post-graduation plan is so open-ended, his is a different sensation than that of Sylvester, whose uncertainty is of another ilk. His open-endedness is not the same. He knows what he wants to do even if he cannot be certain that he’ll get the chance.

I spoke with these guys the other day in the lobby on the north side of Bobby Dodd Stadium where a statue of Johnny Heisman towers, and plaques on the wall include information like: one in six Georgia Tech graduates is a millionaire.

These guys hope! They’ll start out chasing their realities differently, just as they arrived on The Flats in ways not alike.

Lyons and Sylvester came to Tech at the same time, in 2008, the same way they’ll soon leave: with different bearings. Sylvester was recruited as part of head coach Paul Johnson’s first recruiting class out of McDonough. Lyons transferred after having spent a season at Colgate upon graduating from Marist.

Sylvester saw some action that very first fall, never redshirting, and went on to start more than 30 games. Lyons had to wait, redshirting after his transfer and then playing backup B-back sparingly in three seasons since.

“The ah-hah moment hasn’t happened yet,” Sylvester said. “But when [freshman wide receiver] Darren Waller tweeted the other day that he couldn’t believe his first semester was almost over, I thought back to when I was there. He thinks it went fast. I think it all went fast; I remember being where he is now.”

While Sylvester said, “it still hasn’t hit me yet,” that his college days are nearly over, the truth is that it’s been hitting him for months. He said he started looking at everything differently at the end of spring practice. “That was the first time I thought, `This is the last time I’ll do this.’ “

Likewise, after Tech lost to Georgia in the final game, he dwelled in somber fashion over having played his final game in Bobby Dodd Stadium only to come up on the wrong end of things. Some half hour or so after that game, he showed up at media interviews as the only player still wearing all his pads.

Most of his teammates, in fact, had already showered.

Lyons seems to be pressing forward through this phase a tad more doggedly.

It’s not like he’s eager for it to end, but he knows he cannot interrupt this march of time. “You think about what you’re doing, who you’re spending time with,” he said. “You know what’s coming even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. If I could, I’d fly from El Paso to Colorado, but we’re supposed to come back with the team.”

One last time.

We all process transition differently.

And so it goes.

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