Jamari Lyons made it official Wednesday morning.
He’s going to be a Florida Gator.
“It means a lot to me,” the Viera High senior defensive tackle said after signing his National Letter of Intent on the first day of the early signing period.
“It’s a new beginning. It’s going to change my life. It’s a life-changing moment. I can’t wait to see (what the future holds).”
At 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, Lyons wreaked all kinds of havoc for the Hawks throughout his career using his size, quickness and strength to make plays in the backfield.
The four-star recruit had more than 40 scholarship offers from college football programs throughout the country, but eventually chose the Gators over South Carolina. His commitment came on Oct. 24 – his mother’s birthday.
There have been a lot of changes in Gainesville since that night. Coach Dan Mullen, who talked to Lyons on the phone the night he committed, was fired on Nov. 21. A week later, the Gators hired Billy Napier to be their new head coach.
While some players decommitted from Florida in the wake of the coaching change, Lyons never wavered from his decision.
“I wasn’t really committed to the coaches, but more the school, the academics and the culture there,” he said. “I love the environment there. It’s a fun place.
“It’s not only the coaching staff. Either way, I’m going to be good. I feel like Coach Napier is bringing in great coaches from all across the world. Coaching didn’t really didn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it was more of the school standpoint.”
Napier visited Lyons at Viera High on Dec. 9.
“That was cool,” Lyons said with his trademark smile. “It was fun to see him in person and getting to meet him. It was my first time ever meeting him.”
Lyons said he’s looking forward to getting to know Napier and his staff more when he takes an official visit next month.
While some recruits held lavish signing day ceremonies Wednesday, Lyons kept it simple. He signed his papers in the office of Viera athletic director Maggie Davis in front of his teammates, coaches and principal Sarah Robinson.
“I tried to keep it low key because to me, it wasn’t really a big thing,” he said. “It was pretty much just me signing papers. I know it was me fully committing to a school, but I didn’t want to make it a big announcement. I wanted to keep it low key with my teammates.”
Viera offensive coordinator Mike Degory, considered one of the best offensive linemen to ever play at Florida, not only reveled in seeing someone he coached sign with the Gators, he even brought his helmet from his playing days to add to the festivities.
“It’s really just a compliment to Jamari and his development over the last four years here as a Hawk,” Degory said. “His commitment to the program, his commitment to himself have really shown as far as how he’s really blossomed and bloomed and matured up to the point he’s at now.
“We saw him as a young man, and now we see him as a grown person, a person who has taken on the responsibilities of adulthood in a variety of different aspects, not just athletically but also academically and personally. The growth he’s shown here is truly amazing. I think he’s deserving of all the recognition he’s had.”
Lyons becomes the first Viera football player to sign with the Gators and joins a list of Brevard County players to play at Florida that includes Degory (Palm Bay High); Richie Leonard (Cocoa); Marcus Maye (Holy Trinity) and Jawaan Taylor (Cocoa).
“I think when you look at the options he had, I think the best place for him was always in Gainesville,” Degory said of Lyons. “I think he had that revelation, too, over time and the more that he heard from the program and the coaches … in the transition, I think he’s really made strides with the coaching staff as far as his connection to them.
“But yeah, we were stoked … stoked as a family, stoked as a program, stoked as a school to have a guy make that decision for us.”
And what is the best part of playing football for the Gators?
“Game day. The environment,” Degory said. “Jamari’s going to have that experience. The other thing is the players and teammates that you grow and the coaches that you know. I think that’s what you take from it.
“Obviously, the games that you play in that aspect are important, but the crowd and the fans are what you always miss.”
The Gators, meanwhile, are getting a player who led Viera this past season with 91 total tackles. That included 11 sacks and 35 tackles for loss, which tied for eighth in the state.
In his four years at Viera, Lyons had 277 total tackles, 39 sacks and 79 tackles for loss.
Robinson said she was happy for Lyons, not because of the kind of player he is, but for the character he’s shown during his time at the school.
“I’m excited for him for multiple reasons,” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “Like our principal just got done saying, it’s not just about being an athlete. He’s an all-around great kid. He’s going to represent Viera High School well at the University of Florida with his character, with his work ethic.
“But more importantly, it’s about seeing excitement out of the community. We have a strong Gator community. Seeing the excitement out of Coach Degory, knowing that he’s coached and taught him over the last four years; knowing that Degory is a legacy player.
“I got a chance to coach Degory (at Palm Bay High). I got a chance to coach Jamari. It’s cool seeing kids go on to another legacy school where other people have such a tight attachment to. It’s just awesome. It’s going to be a great opportunity for him and his family.”