This is the fourth and final part in our Senior Spotlight Series highlighting Western football players who are graduating or have one year of eligibility remaining due to Covid-19 rules.
The 2021 Mountaineer Football campaign was historic on many counts: recording 10 wins, splitting a share of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) title, and restoring glory to a program with a proud history of winning. At the center of that success was redshirt senior defensive end Will Lydle.
Lydle’s accolades from the team’s recent season are difficult to recount succinctly. He was named the RMAC Defensive Player of The Year as well as the Division-II Region Four Defensive Player of The Year. On the national stage, he was selected to the Division-II American Football Coaches Association All-American Second Team.
In December, he was also named a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award, awarded to fantastic defensive players who play in NCAA Division-II and Division-III or in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). In 2021, Lydle recorded 49 tackles, 17 of them for a loss, and led the Mountaineers squad with 10 sacks. He finishes second on Western’s all-time sacks leaderboard with 21 career sacks.
Despite the tremendous success Lydle achieved, Lydle’s collegiate career was not assured from the start. Lydle broke his ankle and missed his senior season in high school back in Cedar Park, Texas. Western was one of Lydle’s only options on the table due to his limited recruiting film, and he made the decision to become a Mountaineer without an official visit, lured partially by the skiing prospects.
Lydle’s redshirt freshman season was the Mountaineer’s ill-fated 1-10 campaign in 2017. While that season was painful at the time, and particularly so for uber-competitive Lydle, many of the key players in Western’s improved 2019 (5-6 overall) season gained valuable experience back in 2017. In 2018, the Mountaineers only improved their record slightly to 2-9, but managed to stay competitive in many of the games they lost. The 2019 season was the first year that improvements under Head Coach Jas Bains’ watch started to crystallize.
Every year, Lydle took big steps on the field. In 2017, he had 25 tackles and saw action in all 11 games. In 2018, he made 27 tackles, including three sacks, both forcing and recovering a fumble. Then in 2019, Lydle hit his groove, finishing the season with 56 tackles (including 12 for losses) and 8.5 sacks on his way to his first of two All-RMAC First Team honors.
Between the much-improved 2019 season and 2021, many of the Mountaineers opted out for the Covid-stunted 2020 season that saw the team play just one game. Among those opt-outs was Lydle, along with fellow All-RMAC First Teamer and graduated senior Lane Farris.
When Lydle found out the season was likely to be highly truncated or canceled entirely, he made the decision to take a semester off from Western but to stay in Gunnison, working as a cook at the Ol’ Miner Steakhouse, getting his EMT certification online, and continuing his training while awaiting his return to the griditorn in 2021.
Lydle says that in the offseason prior to his redshirt junior campaign, he ratcheted up his training intensity, adding 20 pounds of muscled weight while retaining his speed. He also elevated his game film studies in an effort to anticipate and quickly shut down plays. From a motivational standpoint, Lydle credits his teammates and coaches around him for elevating his play through his Western tenure.
“You come in as a freshman and you don’t really know what to expect,” he says. “You don’t really know how much better people are going to be, what kind of competition you’re facing. And then when you come in here and you see Austin Ekeler, you’re like ‘woah, so I gotta get that good?!”
One of Lydle’s fondest memories in a Mountaineer uniform was beating rival Colorado Mesa in 2019 in Grand Junction. “I don’t think anyone really thought we had a chance of winning. It was a last second field goal, and it was crazy, everyone storming the field,” says Lydle. Two years later, Mesa traveled to Gunnison for the first-ever ranked showdown in the Mountaineer Bowl, which Western won handily 23-9 in a gritty defensive effort.
The individual accolades that came rolling in for Lydle’s efforts were a product of the work he put in with his teammates and the success they shared together in the wins and loss column. “When it comes to the awards, those are all great, but the best thing I got was winning the Conference. That was really the only thing I was concerned about,” adds Lydle.
On the field and stepping off the bus, Lydle’s physical size and strength is his most obvious attribute. He holds numerous records in Western’s weight room, including personal records at Western of 440 pounds on the bench press and 670 pounds in the squat. Despite these impressive physical feats, Lydle doesn’t want his strength to universally define him as a football player and as a pass rusher.
“That was really a bailout, to use my strength…it wasn’t my biggest tool. For me, when you go into a game you want to see how an O-lineman moves. If you can beat ‘em with speed, which I think I have good speed and good footwork, I would usually just beat ‘em with [my] footwork and speed half the time. I think most people rely on strength too much on the inside, but if you can catch people off-guard you can get them thinking more, and that’s when you can really start controlling games…you gotta keep people guessing out there,” offers Lydle on his pass rushing strategy.
Starting in March of 2020, just before Covid-19 shut the world down, Lydle and a handful of other Mountaineers players drew the attention of one of the Arizona Cardinals regional scouts, who came to get some measurables (height, weight, 40-yard-dash time, cone drill times, weightlifting, etc.). Lydle performed well, and he began to consider that the NFL dream could potentially become a reality.
Shortly thereafter, Covid hit, campuses cleared out and shut down, and those nascent dreams were jeopardized. “For Division-II guys, you really need your senior season to show what you can do,” says Lydle, who also notes that NFL regional scouts have been present at certain Mountaineer practices and games over the course of the season. Recalling his end-of-season meetings with the Mountaineer coaches, Lydle recounts that his coaches all encouraged him to give his NFL dreams a whirl.
Pro Days are a quintessential part of the NFL Draft process, and allow scouts to congregate in one centralized location and get a look at a number of players in a condensed time frame. Many large Division-I schools in the Power 5 Conferences will have their own Pro Days just for their team’s players. For Division-II standouts like Lydle, schools will typically either tag-along with a larger school’s Pro Day or centralize on the campus of one Division-II school.
Lydle will likely be attending CSU Pueblo’s Pro Day, tentatively scheduled for late March, to get his measurables recorded and to potentially run through one-on-one drills assigned by scouts ahead of the NFL Draft in late April. Currently, Lydle is training at Landow Performance, a sports performance and athletic training center in Centennial, Colorado in anticipation for Pro Day. Joining him at Landow is teammate and Mountaineer linebacker Lane Farris. Austin Ekeler, the former Mountaineer running back who now stars for the Los Angeles Chargers, also trained at Landow.
Lydle is ready for his chance in front of the scouts and is focused on taking the process step-by-step as it comes. The running splits are an important part of the process, and an easy measuring tool to compare players of different backgrounds. Lydle’s work with Landow Performance has boiled down to mastering the technical aspects of the common scouting events. “It’s really completely different than actually training for a football game; it’s more like you’re training for a track meet,” says Lydle. Whatever awaits him along his NFL Draft journey, Lydle will be ready.