Dicky Lyons Jr. emerged from a room on the third floor of the Wynfrey Hotel with a look straight off Wall Street, sporting a dark blue suit with a blue shirt and dress shoes. It was a conservative look for a big personality like Lyons, so thoughts started running through your head. Perhaps football coach Rich Brooks and the University of Kentucky media relations staff gave Lyons a tranquilizer on the way down, or maybe Lyons' inner Dr. Jekyll had taken over.
Then Lyons opened his jacket. He had on a Bugs Bunny tie.
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It was refreshing, because the media who covered Lyons at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala., last week would rather the UK wide receiver not alter his zany persona one bit.
”It's actually my uncle's,“ Lyons said. ”I don't know, I thought it was a classy tie. Bugs Bunny is a classy guy when he needs to be. It's my personality. Bugs can wine and dine you and tell some jokes, but you respect him because he's funny and he's done a lot.“
Back in the day, joking around was all Lyons was known for. If he was Bugs Bunny, Brooks and offensive coordinator/receivers coach Joker Phillips were Elmer Fudd.
Now, Lyons is coming off two straight productive seasons and is the lone senior in what figures to be a painfully young group of Wildcats wide receivers.
”The Dicky Show“ is still alive and well, but now the substance evenly matches the sideshow.
That was evident when Brooks chose Lyons and defensive end Jeremy Jarmon to represent UK at SEC Media Days.
Just a couple of years ago, Lyons and Jarmon were banned from talking to the media after popping off before UK's game at Mississippi State. Lyons' mouth and antics have gotten him in trouble with the coaching staff on other occasions as well. Yet not only did Brooks take Lyons to Media Days, he said he didn't coach him about what to say.
”That's just part of maturing and growing up,“ Brooks said. ”Accepting responsibility. Being a leader.“
”Five years ago I never thought I'd be that guy coming to Media Day,“ Lyons said. ”But you grow up a lot in five years. That just shows the kind of confidence Coach Brooks has in me. I've grown up as far as the media goes. I can play the game.“
He played the media game like a champ. By the end of the week, Lyons had overtaken Florida's Tim Tebow as the unquestioned star of Media Days. His bizarre recollection of a dream involving him, his fiancee and Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford became a national story.
”I officially vote to make Kentucky receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. a fixture at every SEC Media Days from here on out,“ wrote ESPN.com's Chris Low.
Lyons' anecdotes can often overshadow the fact that he's been a pretty good player. He enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign in 2006, catching 50 passes for 822 yards and nine touchdowns, and he followed that up with a 56-catch, 655-yard, seven-TD season last fall.
Yet Lyons didn't make either the coaches' or media's All-SEC teams released last week. Part of that could be due to the perception that much of Lyons' production came from teams focusing on UK's other receiving weapons such as Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and running back Rafael Little. Lyons admitted that perception bugs him and that he's anxious to put it to rest this year, when he'll probably be the focus of opposing defenses.
”That gets me so mad sometimes when I read that stuff,“ Lyons said. ”There are 100 different ways you can put it. You could say, "You had Keenan your sophomore year. But you could also say Keenan didn't have a big year until I got there. Even (quarterback) Andre (Woodson). People say Steve Johnson stepped up last year. Well, that could have been because me and (Jacob) Tamme were in the slot. But everybody looks at it the other way. My production could have been helping them out. I caught 56 balls as the third receiver, and now those guys are gone. I'm looking at it as I'm going to catch twice as many balls.“
Before he gets loose on the field this season, Lyons has spent most of the summer tutoring UK's young wideouts. Lyons admitted that it took him awhile to get comfortable in a leadership role. Phillips was critical of him in the spring and challenged him to improve in that area.
”It's strange because I've never had to do it before,“ he said. ”That's why I got in trouble in the spring because Keenan was always the guy to work with the young receivers and I was always the guy that made the joke afterwards. Now I just have to tell them what to do and throw a joke in there as well. Joker didn't tell me what to do at first, he put it out in the paper ... I would have liked to say, "All you have to do is tell me,' but actually it motivated me a lot better. I learned a lot from it.“
Lyons attended a passing camp this summer hosted by NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning and said that had a huge impact on him.
”When I was working with them, the camp was supposed to be their vacation time. But they were working the whole time when they weren't with the kids. They said, "Why not work hard?' You see two quarterbacks at the pinnacle who are still working that hard, that really showed me how far I had to go and how little I had done. It was a humbling experience, but a great experience.“
Lyons knows that the more he helps his teammates, the more he'll help himself. He hopes to move around from the slot to the outside to keep defenses honest, and if he can contribute to the development of an Aaron Boyd or a Randall Cobb, he'll likely get more open looks.
Lyons thinks back to 2004, when he was forced into action as a true freshman because of injuries. He only caught two passes in seven games and said a lot of that was due to not being prepared. Lyons said he's making sure that doesn't happen to this year's freshmen.
”I've helped those guys out a lot more than anybody ever helped me out,“ Lyons said. ”I told them that if I had the help that I gave you my freshman year from somebody who knew what they were talking about, I would have gone into the first game as the starter. I've gotten these guys to the point to where I'm signaling plays, and they know where to line up. Your first week of camp you have no idea what you're doing, and the fact that these guys know is a big advantage to have as a freshman.“
That will no doubt be music to the ears of Phillips, who's had his share of run-ins with Lyons over the years. Lyons, a native of New Orleans and the son of former UK star Dicky Lyons Sr., said he and his position coach have a unique relationship.
”I've always said that we'll fight like brothers,“ Lyons said. ”I'll yell at him or he gets mad at me. Then he'll feel bad and come apologize to me, and I'll say, I'm sorry, Coach, blah, blah, blah. But he's the greatest guy. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here. I was thinking about leaving after my freshman year, and he locked me in his office and wouldn't let me leave. I wanted to go home and he said, "Well, if you miss the (Cajun) food, go over to Bourbon N' Toulouse.“