Thinking back on the decorated career of former Kentucky football wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr., selecting just one highlight is an unenviable task.
Is it his 80-yard touchdown catch in the 2006 season opener against Louisville? What about the touchdown he scored in the Wildcats' Music City Bowl victory over Clemson that same season? Consulting YouTube, could it be the bone-crunching fourth-quarter block he laid in UK's upset of eventual national champion LSU? Hold on, you can't forget about how he was named the team's Most Improved Offensive Player during his sophomore season and Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll the next.
When Lyons recalls his most memorable moment as a Wildcat, he can't help but hearken back to a day that no fan was present to witness. It was one of a thousand spent toiling on the practice field.
"The biggest moment probably came on the practice field," Lyons said. "There were a couple guys who got in trouble and had to run."
In the middle of the punishment, with the group of players dragging after countless sprints, quarterback Andre Woodson stood up. It wasn't a gesture borne out of defiance or disrespect, rather one borne out of leadership, out of loyalty. Woodson declared that he would run stride for stride with his teammates even though he had broken no rules.
The moment won't go down in UK football lore, but Lyons sees it as one that helped set the tone for the winning culture that began to define the program under Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips.
He's not proud of it, but It just so happens that Lyons was one of the players in the doghouse.
"I didn't want to say it, but it was actually me who got in trouble," Lyons admitted. "Having him get down next to me when I was hurt and tired being made an example out of (by the coaches), Andre said, 'We're going to do it as a team' and ran with me. That meant a lot to me."
On that day, Lyons learned a lesson that many people don't grasp until much later in life, if at all: that you come to define yourself by how you respond in those moments of adversity, when things aren't quite going as you expected.
Ironically, Woodson was also there on another notable occasion when Lyons would be called on to put that lesson into practice. This time, the unexpected came in the form of pondering his future sooner than Lyons anticipated.
Woodson and Lyons were playing together in the UFL for the Hartford Colonials when they were released in August 2010. Faced with the harsh reality of not knowing what he would do next, Lyons leaped at the first opportunity that presented itself. He heard about work in Grand Isle, La., that was just a couple hours away from his hometown of New Orleans.
For Grand Isle, the unexpected came in the form of a disastrous oil spill that cast into doubt the survival of a small community that relies on tourism and saltwater fishing.
Lyons' next step would come as a part of the cleanup effort in Grand Isle.
"My cousin was working down here spotting oil and he told me he could get me a job," Lyons said. "I thought I might as well. I just got released three days before that."
He went to work for ES&H, the company that had won the contract to lead the response and recovery efforts in Grand Isle. Lyons knew the degree he had earned at UK would be important to his life after football. He just didn't think he would use it so soon.
"I came down there and I had a college degree so they put me in the office, in accounts payable," Lyons said. "I was programming third-party contractor invoices for about 14 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week. That was September 1 (last year) and I've been here ever since, working every day."
Lyons' degree and his willingness to put his head down and work have paved the way for rapid advancement. In just nine months, he has moved from accounts payable to billing to his current position of housing director for the entire island operation.
Even though he's not putting on his pads anymore, the competitiveness that defined him as a player has continued to serve him well.
"It's almost like competition," Lyons said. "When I came down here, there were 30 some odd guys in the warehouse and we were all fresh out of college. After 100 days, a bunch of guys were getting tapped out and it was a challenge just to beat out the rest of them. I think (the experience at UK) helped out tremendously to get where I am."
The last year has been full of more early mornings than he cares to remember, but he was more than prepared for that after Kentucky.
"It definitely helped out being able to have that experience (at UK)," Lyons said. "I was up at 4:30 in the morning to run, so waking up at 4:30 in the morning to go into the office really wasn't all that hard for me."
The hundred-hour weeks have made staying in football shape nearly impossible. Even though Lyons says it wouldn't be difficult to get back to his playing weight, he doesn't see himself giving his professional career another try. Football, though, is something he'll never shake completely.
"Working 14 hours a day, there's not a lot of time to work out, but that little 10-pound beer gut that I've got now wouldn't be too hard to get rid of," Lyons said. "With football, I'd love to pursue coaching. Playing, I think I've put that behind me and I'm fine with that. I'd really like to pursue coaching if the opportunity presents itself."
The experience Lyons had at UK has made turning the page on his playing days a lot easier.
"It was the best time of my life, especially after you go to the pros and you see how cutthroat it is," Lyons said. "In college, especially with how our group of guys came together, it was the best time of my life. You realize that in the real world, you don't get to meet friends like that. You have so many friends that you can always rely on and trust, guys that will have your back in anything you do. That experience at Kentucky is one I wouldn't give up for anything."
As Lyons works in the "real world" waiting for his opportunity to get into coaching, he is getting his football fix by watching his alumni. For the first time, Lyons is able to watch games with his father, UK football great Dicky Lyons Sr.
"We love watching games together now, Lyons said. "It's finally something we can enjoy. We never really got to watch the games together. This was the first year I was actually close enough to home where we could get together and watch games. He's funny and it's been a great time and it's something that we'll always have. We talk about (our time at UK) a lot. We're two of the biggest UK fans you'll ever see."
Lyons is excited about the future of the program under Phillips. The two worked very closely while Lyons was at Kentucky from 2004, 2006-08, with the current head coach working with wide receivers when Lyons first arrived and eventually moving up to offensive coordinator before he graduated.
Speaking like a true fan, Lyons just wants to see some more wins now.
"His goal is always to improve," Lyons said. "He has improved position-wise as much as you can, now I think he just needs to improve his record with more wins. If anybody is going work hard to make that happen, it's going to be him."
In spite of his busy schedule, Lyons was able to return to Lexington for Senior Day in 2010 to cheer on his former UK and high school teammate Moncell Allen. Lyons saw firsthand what Allen went through to get to that point and could not have been happier for the running back turned fullback.
"I went to Senior Day for Moncell and that was awesome," Lyons said. "A lot of guys who came from the Ninth Ward where he was from never would have made it as far as he did. It was great to just see him and I was so proud of him. It's just another moment in Kentucky football history where nobody knows how hard some of these guys have to work to get where they are."
Lyons will make another return trip to Lexington for the Swings for Soldiers Classic on July 18. He is coming in support of former teammate Jacob Tamme, who is hosting the event with his wife, Allison, but is also concerned about defending the long drive title he earned last summer.
"I'll definitely be there because last year they had to change the name from the long drive contest to the try and beat Dicky's drive contest," Lyons said. "I have to go hold my record."
When listening to Lyons talk about his life now and his time at UK, it's impossible to miss how often names like "Andre," "Moncell" and "Jacob" are mentioned. The longest-lasting memories for Lyons aren't big catches, touchdowns or even big wins, but rather the relationships he built in Lexington.
"That's what it was all about, building relationships," Lyons said. "I think that's what life's about. It's the people you meet and how true of friends they are. That's what you come to find after leaving is that good friends are hard to find. I found about 250 of them going there, from all of the seniors that came in ahead of me to the guys who came in after. I've got them all in my phone and I guarantee I could call every single one of them and, if I needed them, they would come. To me, they're all my best friends and they always will be."