MADISON – Up until the past few weeks, Kare Lyles didn’t know what it’s like to throw with full authority. No wonder he’s having a hard time wiping smile off his face.
Forced to rely solely on arm strength for his high school career because of hip problems, Lyles is fully healed and back playing football for the first time since November, getting practice reps as Wisconsin’s third-string quarterback.
“He’s doing a good job,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “He’s been thrown into the mix and learning on the go. He approaches everything the right way. He’s got the skills to be really good. He works.”
Lyles enrolled in January to get a head start with his development, and was in the perfect situation to do so with only two scholarship quarterbacks in camp. But as he went through winter conditioning, his hip pain started becoming overwhelming.
For his entire life Lyles suffered from a pair of hip impingements on each side. At first it caused him to walk with a slight limp and have his foot pointed out, but eventually the constant wear and tear of athletics eliminated all cartilage in the area and created two bones rubbing against one another.
While it wasn’t a major problem on the right side of his body, the right-handed throwing Lyles could generate no power with his plant left leg because of the pain.
“I had to depend on my arm because sometimes the pain level would be so high that I couldn’t really turn,” Lyles said. “Sometimes I would be just standing and throwing.”
Even without the full use of his lower body, Lyles still led Scottsdale (AZ) Saguaro to back-to-back state championships as a junior (Division III) and senior (Division II), completing 70.5 percent of his passes during a two-year varsity career for 6,981 yards, 87 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Originally hoping the problem would be manageable, Lyles found out quickly that he could no longer survive on pure arm strength.
“The weight lifting and conditioning is more intense in college, and it got to the point where I was just burying myself to the ground with all the work,” Lyles said. “At night I couldn’t even walk.”
When a searing pain shot through Lyles’ plant leg during a winter drill, he threw in the towel. Getting surgery in March to shave down the bone to alleviate the friction, Lyles wasn’t expected to be cleared until the beginning of August.
He surprised a lot of people when he started jogging without a limp in June, well ahead of schedule, and now has full range of motion in his lower body and feels himself throwing farther than before.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better because it feels awesome,” Lyles said. “I feel like I can still throw strong; I can still throw 50 yards without even moving. Now I can do different types of throwing because my base is finally where I need it to be. I can become more of a quarterback and less than a thrower.”
The biggest hurdle for Lyles is physical. After missing the end of winter conditioning, all of spring football and most of summer (and all the weight lifting and conditioning that goes with it), Lyles is using fall camp to get him in shape – a tough challenge in its own right – and learn where he needs to be on his drops, how the play develops and where his reads are.
“It’s the college game now; I can’t depend as much on my arm as I did in high school,” Lyles said. “Focusing on the little things and fundamentals is the key thing I am telling myself every single day. I feel like I’m improving day by day … In the back of my mind, I’m doing the best I possibly can. I’m going 100 percent all the time. At the end of practice, if I don’t feel I killed myself, then shame on me.”
With still only two scholarship quarterbacks in camp, Lyles is planning on redshirting but he’s preparing himself for anything.
“Coach told me to prepare like the starter but in the back of your mind think redshirt,” Lyles said. “It all depends on how I throw as a quarterback. That want me ready and get better by the day, which is what everyone is supposed to do. He doesn’t want me to get behind. When my time comes, I’m going to take advantage of it as clear as I can.”