On Friday nights, Anthony Lyons became a star at Greer High School. The 6-foot-4 cornerback rode a stellar senior season to a Limestone offer. But his journey to get to that point was far from easy, and his hard times extended way beyond a football field.At Anthony Lyons’ signing day, he’s joined by the two people that have meant the most to him in his life, his mother and his ‘Mimi.’Anthony’s ‘Mimi’, Karen Blocker, smiles with him after his graduation from Greer High School.Anthony Lyons (right) with his mother, Jessica Lyons.A young Anthony Lyons

The Long Way Home

Trey Stewart's picture
Lyons beats the odds to fulfill college football dream
By: 
Trey Stewart

It's one of the most important days of Anthony Lyons' life, and per usual, he can't stop smiling.

Lyons grins from ear to ear as friends, teammates, coaches and family pile into Greer High School's alumni room. The Jackets' star senior cornerback prepares to put pen to paper and sign to play college football at Limestone University.

Above the surface, it's a day many dream of. Lyons pinches himself to make sure it's real.

"I'll be honest, I never really thought this would happen for me," said Lyons, infectious grin hardly waning between syllables. "I didn't even start playing sports until the ninth grade. But I worked and made sure to grind hard to get here."

Beneath the surface, however, Lyons' story runs much deeper than a football and pads. The 6-foot-4 giant knows his gridiron success represents merely the denouement of a much larger, more convoluted journey.

Lyons' path was never a straight one.

UNSTEADY, UNSTABLE

At the signing table, Lyons is joined by two people. To his right, his mother, Jessica, sits with pride beaming in her son's direction. She knows that life hasn't always been as sweet for them as it is today.

"We've been through some really rough patches in our lives," said Jessica. "At times, it's been a real mess."

In 2012, Jessica and her husband separated. Anthony was just five years old at the time, confused about what was taking place.

Hard times fell on Jessica after the divorce, and as a result, Anthony and his older sister, Auriel, were transferred to Connie Maxwell Children's home in Greenwood.  The ministry is described on its website as a “home away from home” for children lacking a safe, stable environment to live in.

Anthony fit the description.

“When I was little, I was around a lot of bad stuff,” said Anthony. “[DSS] came and took me and my sister away from our parents when we were five years old. For the longest, we were just bouncing from place to place. I didn’t have a real home for very long.”

Anthony admits that while staying at Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, he was frequently on bad behavior. His antics and disobedience, he says,  got him kicked out after several years of stay.

He moved in with his grandparents on his father’s side after that.

Once that proved too difficult to balance, Anthony was left scrambling again.

Underprivileged and always on the move, he desperately needed a lifeline, a steady hand to see him through his middle and high school years.

MIMI’S PROMISE

To Anthony’s left at signing day, an older woman with glasses sits. She’s wearing a fuzzy pink jacket to match the dyed pink strand in her silvery hair.

Her name is Karen Blocker, but to Anthony, she’s just ‘Mimi.’ And Mimi is quick to remind Anthony where his football journey began.

“I’m the one who got him into sports,” Mimi says, smiling. “From the very beginning.”

Anthony recalls the day his Mimi came to get him after he left his grandparents’ home.

“The first time Mimi picked me up, I remember what she said. She said ‘We’re putting you into sports.’ I started crying. I was so happy. I’d always wanted to play sports,” said Anthony. “I remember being outside cutting grass as a kid at Connie Maxwell, just dreaming of playing football one day. But I never had the funds to do it.”

Mimi saw a need in Anthony and fulfilled it. She and her late husband, Charles, built an extra room for their grandson in their Greer home. Anthony enrolled at Greer Middle School. For the first time in his life, he had a little bit of stability.

He had a lifelong football dream in his sights, too.

“Anytime Anthony would be on the phone with girls, he’d always ask me to tell them a fib and say that he played football,” recalled Jessica, laughing. “He wanted me to tell them he was the star quarterback. I was like, ‘You’re crazy!’

“I think it just shows how much he’d always wanted to be a football player. So when he finally got the opportunity, he took advantage of it.”

A STAR IS BORN

Anthony’s first football opportunity came in ninth grade. As a tall, lanky freshman at Greer High School, he walked into Greer JV coach Sammy Dixon’s office. He had missed summer signups and workouts, but he asked if there was a chance for him to be on the team anyway.

Dixon gave Anthony a shot and a spot on the JV roster.

Four years later, Anthony had molded into a star.

“His growth and knowledge of the game has gotten so much better since I first watched him play,” said Greer head coach Will Young. “I’m so excited to see what he becomes.”

Lyons capped off his career with an all-region, all-state campaign as a senior. He earned the opportunity to play in the North-South Bowl in Myrtle Beach. Most importantly to him, he received his offer to play collegiately, something a younger Anthony could’ve only dreamed of while jumping from home to home, searching for his path and purpose.

“I went on a visit to Limestone, and the head coach at the time pulled me and my mom into his office,” said Lyons. “He said ‘we want to offer you a full scholarship to play football here.’ I looked at my mom, and she just broke down crying.”

“I was nervous because Anthony had told me the only way he was going to college was if he got to play football there,” Jessica said. “So when the season ended and we hadn’t heard much, I was worried. But then Limestone reached out and I was so happy.

“This is his dream and he gets to live it.”

IN THE END

Everything has changed for Anthony. A young life once full of confusion and crying out for hope is now steady. It’s all everyone who loves him has ever wanted.

It seemed a stable home life wasn’t meant to be for Anthony. He lived in five different places from ages 5-12.

Now, his mother has regained custody of all four of her children. She has them all — including Anthony — back under a stable roof.

In the past, trouble at home made performing well in school nearly impossible for Anthony. His childhood grades suffered.

Last week, Anthony graduated from Greer High School with a 3.0 GPA.

As a kid, financial strains kept football a pipe dream for Anthony. He dreamed it, but never fully believed it.

Next month, Anthony heads off to Limestone to play football on a full-ride scholarship.

A couple of wrong turns didn’t stop him from reaching his destination.

“I’m just so amazed at my son,” said Jessica. “He’s never had it easy. But he’s put in so much work to make it this far… I give it all to God. It’s always been His plan, His timing.”

Anthony stayed the course, and God’s plan finally found him favor, he says. He gives credit to Him, his Mimi and his mother for all they’ve done.

“I’m blessed. My Mimi and my mom both mean a lot to me,” said Anthony. “My mom did the work to get [custody] back after my Mimi came to get me because that opened her eyes. And my Mimi means the world to me, too. She took me in.

“I don’t know what I’d do without my mom and my Mimi. I love those girls to death.”

trey@greercitizen.com | 877-2076

 

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