Orlando Brown was a dominant offensive tackle. Rick Lyle was a free agent rookie defensive end. It was the first day of hitting in training camp. Brown vs. Lyle. A chance for Lyle to show something. A chance for Brown to pancake another rookie.
Brown flattened Lyle.
"It was right in front of the head coach," Lyle says. "I called Laura and told her, 'You might as well pack our bags. I'm not going to be here for long.' "
That was 1994, and Lyle has been in the NFL ever since - despite the painful start. Lyle has learned that anything worth having is worth struggling to achieve.
Getting pummeled by Brown was an eye-opener about what it was going to take to make it in the NFL. College football had been so much easier.
Lyle was All-Big 8 at Missouri, as well as Big 8 indoor shot put champion. He was academic all-conference and team captain. Good looking, popular, successful - Lyle had it all. His athletic life was more simple and easier than his personal life, where questions of faith and lifestyle challenged his maturity.
"I grew up going to church all my life," Rick says. "But once I got to college - with it being my first time away from home - I stopped going all together. I used the excuse that I was sore from playing the day before.
"I tried to be a womanizer. Then, in my sophomore year, I met my future wife, Laura. Through our dating we realized we wanted to make a commitment to each other and to God."
Laura says they didn't want to live the way that they had been living in college.
"We'd just recently started dating and were talking about what it was like in the homes we grew up in," Laura says. "Through that talk we realized how far we were from how we'd been taught as kids; it kind of opened our eyes to where we were at."
Gradually, a deeper commitment was made to following Jesus Christ.
Laura outpaced Rick early on. "My wife is good at volunteering me for things," Rick says, laughing. "One of the things she volunteer me for was teaching third and fourth grade Sunday School. That was the thing that really opened my eyes.
"Seeing kids looking up at you like their connection to God was really humbling. I learned more from them than I taught. We asked the kids once who they thought was most like Jesus, and this one kid said me."
The child's answer was more powerful than an Orlando Brown pancake block.
"It floored me, because this kid didn't know how bad a person I really was or the things I had done," Rick says. "I was still going back-and-forth in my faith at this point, but that really put me on my heels, humbled me, and made me realize that it isn't what I do in Sunday School that makes me a man of Christian character, but what I do behind closed doors."
Rick joined Laura in a deeper commitment to Christ. Rick and Laura have asked Jesus to guide them through life. They live by the principles and instruction of God's Word as found in the Bible, and they raise 3-year-old daughter Haley according to God's plan for the family.
"I had the foundation," Rick says. "My parents had done a good job. It was just a matter of getting to that point of surrender."
Faith in Christ has helped Rick survive, and finally thrive, in football. Missouri didn't have a winning season in the five years (one red-shirt season) he was there. He entered the league as a free agent, but has been a starting defensive end for two years.
"In my mind, the fact that I have a pro career is an accomplishment," says Rick, who is 6-feet-6, 285.
Rick says the pressure of playing and staying in the NFL is great, but the pressure of life is greater. He can't imagine coping with either without Christ.
"In this league, at any point on any given day, you can go from hero to zero real quick," he says. "If you're relying on that for security and self-worth, it can tear you apart. My foundation is Christ. I don't have to rely on what the coaches are telling me to know my self worth. I've known players who have bad games and are miserable all week. I play hard and want to have a great game, and I'm disappointed when I don't, but Christ allows me to be consistent in my self-esteem.
"There are pressures in football and pressures in all of life. I think people need Christ to deal with any kind of pressure. I don't understand how people can get through the things they face - tragedies, etc. - without having the hope that is found in Christ."
Rick shares his hope in Christ regularly in churches, school, at youth groups - anywhere he is invited to speak. His message is sincere and clear:
"Don't put your trust in things like money, power, athletic success - those things that society deems important. They're all fleeting. They're not important in the overall picture. We all need to realize that we're sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Jesus Christ died on the cross to forgive us of our sins and set us right with God. We need to accept that forgiveness and give him our lives - that is what gives us true
meaning, true self-worth and true success."
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