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Jason Lyons ready to lead Eastmark football program

Feb. 14—Jason Lyons was content as the defensive coordinator for the Highland Hawks football team.

And for good reason.

He spent nine seasons with the Hawks, beginning as the assistant line coach under Pete Wahlheim and remained on staff under current coach Brock Farrel. Lyons eventually became the defensive coordinator. He had no plans on leaving Highland. That is, until Farrel got in his ear.

"[Farrel] just said, 'Hey man, you know I love you and I'm not sending you anywhere. But, this is seven minutes walking across the street from your house and it's an awesome opportunity,'" Lyons said. "I did. I applied. [Eastmark Principal Jay Schnittger] got back to me pretty quick and I started to get a better feel for what they're doing over there.

"I started realizing they just need stability on the coaching side. It went pretty fast."

Eastmark had just opened after former coach Travis Dixon left to take over at his alma mater, Hamilton. Dixon was only with the Firebirds for a year, taking over after they won the 3A state title under Scooter Molander, who is now at Desert Vista.

The Firebirds knew they wanted some continuity with the next head coach they hired. They wanted someone that would stay and continue to develop the program, which is currently on a path of becoming a 6A school in due time.

Lyons knew he could be that guy. He lives across the street from Eastmark, so he's familiar with the community. He also has no plans of leaving anytime soon.

"Being across the street, I don't plan on going anywhere," Lyons said. "I was at Highland for nine years. It's not like I was job hopping. I'm not a reactionary or impulsive person. I can see a plan and I'm excited to give those kids continuity and stability."

Lyons played just about every position outside of cornerback when he was in high school. He played in a small town called Stillwater in upstate New York. He was a guard on the offensive side but flirted with multiple positions at defense. Albeit not all of the position changes were by choice.

He became the go-to guy when others got injured. It wasn't due to his standout athleticism, but more so his knowledge of the game. He memorized the job of every position on the field, including coverages, different looks and other factors that require one to be successful.

He began coaching shortly after graduating. After two years, he and his wife made the move to Arizona where he continued his education at Arizona State. For 13 years he worked on Mill Avenue as a bartender, but eventually got into teaching at 32 years old. It was also around that time he got back into coaching.

An offensive guy at heart, Lyons knew Farrel was going to call plays for the Hawks. So, he moved over to defense.

His knowledge of the game had only grown from his younger years. He related to the players. He made practices and learning the game fun.

Most importantly, he made them successful. He assembled a staff under him to help on that side of the ball. DeAngelo Dunbar has helped Highland's corners become standouts. Dominic Willis has helped develop some of the best linebackers in the state. Highland's defensive line was a stout unit that pressured opposing quarterbacks.

Lyons' schemes on defense helped the Hawks become one of the top units in the state the past few seasons. They helped lead the way to two straight 6A titles and an Open Division semifinal appearance last year.

He said telling the Highland players he was leaving was a difficult task.

"It was hard. But I made sure they knew the decision I made was one I thought was best for my family," Lyons said. "The support I've received from the Highland community has been remarkable. I wanted to make sure they understood I learned more from them over the years than what I could have ever taught them. They helped teach us old guys just as much as we coach them."

Lyons said he could sense a good amount of energy in the room when he met with Eastmark players. The meeting with Highland players to announce his departure was somber, but they were happy for him.

He credited Dixon for what he was able to build with the Firebirds' program in a short time. Now, he hopes to maintain that success with a plethora of talent set to return next season.

"Those kids are hungry. It's exciting," Lyons said of Eastmark. "Travis has done a good job of emulating that 6A culture we want to build over there. There's already a template in place there.

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.