When you're an NFL player, everyone comes to you. Now it's the other way around.
CLEARFIELD — Second chances don’t always happen. Andre Dyson knows that. He knew it in 2006 when he started — but couldn’t finish — for the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL against Pittsburgh. He knows it now as he sits in the clutter of the football office at Clearfield High.
“You never know when your last game is going to be,” says Dyson, who became the coach at his alma mater in December. “You think you’ll get back, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes there’s just the one.”
That’s how it was with him. Seven years in the NFL, one Super Bowl. A strained quadriceps kept his status in doubt until kickoff against Pittsburgh. He didn’t practice with the team the week before the game. Yet Dyson never felt better than he did in the first half, which is the irony of it.
“I remember never being more relaxed in my life. I can’t explain it. I was so calm,” he says, describing the moment he ran onto the field. “I don’t even know why, it just felt like a dream.”
When Denver and Seattle meet in next Sunday’s Super Bowl, Dyson says there will be a range of emotions. In the 2006 game he saw some players crying before kickoff, overwhelmed or anxious, while others were fired up. But for him, he says, it was empowering. Then it all ended. His leg began failing during halftime and after a few warm-up attempts he knew he couldn’t run at all.
Time is a thief and Dyson tells his high school players as much. He believes his injury-troubled 2005 season caused the Seahawks to release him after the Super Bowl. He played two more years, with the New York Jets, before retiring.
Sometimes players at Clearfield ask about his seven-year pro career. But the former Ute defensive back doesn’t readily bring it up, believing the principles of work and perseverance are enough.
“There are so many life lessons you learn in football,” he says.
Dreaming is fine, but if you ask him, determination is better. Born prematurely, Dyson weighed just 1 pound, 9 ounces. His older brother Kevin — also an ex-Ute and 6-year NFL player — called him “Bird” because he was so small. NFL teammates sometimes called him “Dre-Bird.”
“When you look at me (he played at 5-10, 183 pounds) people say, ‘Oh, you were in the NFL? You look like a regular guy on the street.’ I wasn’t bigger, strong, faster than all those people,” he says. “But what I was is more mentally tough than a lot of people, and had a lot more drive, and I believed in myself.”
He hopes to get that message to a Clearfield team that won just two games last season and was winless in region play.
That Dyson would end up back at his alma mater is only fitting. He loved high school football, though nowadays it’s more complicated. Aside from coaching, he has the additional duty of fundraising.
When you’re an NFL player, everyone comes to you. Now it’s the other way around.
After his playing career, Dyson was hired by Weber State’s Ron McBride, who was his college coach at Utah. But with three kids, Dyson decided last season to take a job as defensive coordinator at Weber High, which allowed more family time.
When he showed up on the Warriors’ sideline he realized he had forgotten that high school is where the experience is the most fun.
“We would look forward to it all week,” he says. “We wore our jerseys in school. We were like, ‘Look at that number because you’re going to be seeing it all during the game.’”
That was especially true with Dyson. But excepting a handful of Division I prospects, he says most of the talent in Utah high schools is similar. Winning is usually decided in the head and heart.
He doesn’t overuse his NFL credentials, despite having logged 22 career interceptions, including a 72-yard touchdown return. He also had a 25-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
“I tell the kids all the time that there were people I played with in college that had way more ability than me, were way better than me,” he says. “But they wanted me to do things off the field that hurt me on field. I was like, 'I don’t do that stuff.' I wanted to be the best football player.”
That attitude has a familiar ring. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, for one, subscribes to the same ethic. Dyson calls Manning a guy “who’s gonna be a headache all day” for Seattle’s secondary, but predicts the Seahawks will win.
Defensive guys like a defense’s chances, especially when the weather is dicey.
He also likes his chances of turning around Clearfield’s football program. But instead of reliving the 2013 season, he’s focusing on this year’s team and wants his players to enjoy the moment. Teams around the country sell T-shirts that say, “Every day is game day.”
Maybe so, but as Dyson’s story shows, not necessarily.
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