Dominic Lyles ’22 carries the ball in the Patriot League championship game this spring.
Photo: Jon Lambert
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Dominic Lyles ’22 carries the ball in the Patriot League championship game this spring.

No Stopping Dom

by Andrew Faught
In a 2019 Bucknell football victory over Lehigh University, Dominic Lyles ’22 etched himself into the Bison record book by tying a program record with 14 receptions by a wide receiver in a single game.

But Lyles, in a show of self-effacement, wants to qualify the accomplishment. He hit the mark in large part, he says, because Lehigh was preoccupied with fellow wide receiver and co-record holder Brandon Sanders, who had his own big game a week earlier against Lafayette.

“It would flip-flop between us,” Lyles says. “The next week a team would say, ‘OK, now we have to stop Dom.’ But trying to stop both, that’s hard to do. Basically, you take what the defense gives you.”

Sanders announced in May that he was transferring to Rutgers, so all eyes this fall will be on Lyles, who in a four-game, COVID-19-shortened 2021 spring season led the team with 31 receptions and 291 yards. The international relations major is back for his senior campaign as co-captain, hoping to lead by example.

Lyles’ rules for success are simple: see ball, catch ball. “The ball’s going to be coming to me a lot,” he says. “I have to make plays, get first downs and keep drives going. We practiced all week for Lehigh, and it worked out. I saw the ball coming, and I wasn’t overthinking.”

Lyles hasn’t always had an easy time with nerves. Before games at DeMatha Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., he’d get anxious on the team bus anticipating the first snap. He’s since learned to quell his jumpiness by listening to music, engaging in positive self-talk and tuning out crowd noise.

“All eyes are on you, and as a receiver, if you drop the ball, then the play’s dead, and everybody is looking at you like it’s your fault,” Lyles says. “The pressure does get to you a little bit, but once you develop confidence, if you drop the ball, you know you’re going to be fine afterward.”

He’s also learned that some things in life are bigger than a game. That was never clearer than in the last year-and-a-half, as COVID-19 killed more than 600,000 Americans and exposed the need to improve public health for communities of color. (Lyles may teach in an under-resourced community after graduation, hoping to help youths transcend challenges to their success.)

Last fall, Lyles, whose father is African American and whose mother hails from Trinidad, co-founded the Bison Athletes of Color affinity group, which aims to build a stronger community among athletes of color and improve outreach to the athletics administration and the larger campus community.

Lyles calls the group’s creation “one of my crowning achievements at Bucknell.” He seized on the energy of Black Lives Matter demonstrations that erupted internationally in 2020.

“We first talked with the football team, and then realized other teams aren’t having the same conversations, because they’re not predominantly Black,” Lyles says. “The goal was to build community, and I feel as though we accomplished that.”

Instant Replay

Greatest career highlight
The win against Georgetown during his sophomore year. After a collective tough game on offense, he caught the winning touchdown.
Balancing Football and Studies
He focuses on what’s most important, which is doing what he has to do on the field and using his college years to prepare for his future.
Finding Motivation
Realizing that football, as well as life, is a team effort, and knowing that each step he takes in the right direction may inspire others to do so as well.
Lessons Learned on the Field that Spill Into the Classroom
“Discipline, teamwork and perseverance are the main lessons I learned, which contribute to continual growth and interest in the classroom.”