Very few high school student athletes can say they wrapped up their high school career with a story as good as Gainesville’s Tristan Lyon.
It happened just a few days after the standout in football and lacrosse received his diploma May 21 at City Park Stadium.
On Monday, the Red Elephants’ prolific punter was shaking hands with legendary University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley at the Athens County Club, one of five scholar athletes recognized by the National Football Foundation’s University of Georgia chapter at its yearly banquet.
At first, Lyon, an aspiring filmmaker, thought he would show up to the event, shake a few hands and walk out with a plaque and a respectable scholarship to go toward his tuition.
Once he walked in the door, wearing a suit and tie, he quickly found out that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
The signee to play football at Georgia State had no idea that one of those hands he’d shake would be the firm grip of the retired Bulldogs coach, who guided the program to its last national championship in 1980, and has for many decades been synonymous with the University of Georgia football program.
“Shaking hands with Vince Dooley was a really amazing experience,” said Lyon. “It was hard not to get giddy.”
Gainesville football coach Heath Webb said he’s nominated players for this same award for 11 seasons.
This is the first time one of his players was picked.
Lyon graduated with a 3.9 GPA, was ranked the 36th-best punter in the country with an average of 40 yards per attempt, and he has a wide array of interests away from the football field.
“Tristan checks all the boxes they were looking for with the award,” said Webb, who attended the event with Lyon’s family.
Webb didn’t have to prepare Lyon for being in a room with many legendary University of Georgia players of the past, including Malcolm Mitchell and David Pollack, and legendary Georgia writer Loran Smith.
“Tristan’s a very mature young man,” Gainesville’s football coach said. “He can sit in a room with adults and former Georgia football players and interact very comfortably.”
Lyon’s accomplishments included twice being named All-Region, and he was Gainesville’s Special Teams Player of the Year three times, according to Webb.
He was also a standout lacrosse player all three years he attended Gainesville High, and he loves to spend free time in the outdoors.
However, Lyon’s biggest passion — away from sports — is the cinema industry.
Although he was born in Southern California, in the Los Angeles suburbs, Lyon didn’t realize his passion would be making movies until an unintended elective course he was placed in as freshman when at Winder-Barrow.
The future Georgia State punter has never wanted to be an actor or be in front of the camera.
However, he quickly became fascinated with all the work that goes on behind the scenes in making movies that consumers watch in less than two hours.
Through his high school career, Lyon found out he was especially interested in the lighting and nuance that goes into making every shot look realistic.
“I found out that 99 percent of filmmaking is not in front of the camera,” said Lyon.
Lyon, who is a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films, keeps a list of movies that he needs to watch, when he’s not busy with football, lacrosse or school work.
Lyon also enjoys an engaging game of chess.
To say he’s well-versed in lots of aspects of life would be an understatement, which is what the award was all about: having a plan for life after football.
Gainesville’s recent graduate got to hear the former All-American Georgia defensive end and first-round draft pick Pollack talk during his keynote address about nearly quitting football in high school and then having to find a new path for his life after a broken-neck injury early in his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals. After retiring, Pollack has transitioned into having one of the most successful football broadcasting careers with ESPN.
A plan for life after football is already in place for Lyon.
He’s enamored by all the behind-the-scenes labor it takes to make quality films.
Being near the film industry, in Atlanta, is one of the reasons Lyon chose Georgia State to continue playing football.
After graduating, Lyon said he would prefer to stay in Georgia, where he’s lived since he was 4, but could also have film-industry doors open up where he’s from in California.
Much like his introduction into an appreciation for film, so was Lyon’s unplanned path to punting in football.
Growing up the son of a football coach, Naji Lyon, who is entering Year 4 as an assistant coach for Gainesville High, Tristan did everything but kick.
In youth leagues, Lyon was on the offensive line and also played quarterback.
Then, in middle school, he was asked to be a punter, which Lyon accepted with open arms.
Lyon credits Gainesville assistant coach PJ Davis, who is in charge of special teams, for helping him hone his craft.
“I fell in love with hitting a spiral,” Lyon said.
In addition to his work as punter, Lyon remained a backup quarterback through his senior season.
However, with the talent ahead of him on the depth chart at quarterback in 2020, senior Gionni Williams and freshman Baxter Wright, it was clear that punting would be his ticket to the next level.
Lyon said, in practice, he spent very little time working on punting.
Most of his time was working as a quarterback.
However, in his free time, Lyon loves to get out to an open field, near his home in Flowery Branch, to work on launching footballs with his powerful right leg.
Still, his life is much more well-rounded than just playing football.
Lyon has a plan for where he wants to go after his college career is finished.