By LARRY VAUGHT
Dicky Lyons Jr. was always a “bit of a challenge” for former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks.
Lyons’ skills were obvious. He left UK ranked fourth in career receiving yards (1,752), third in career touchdown receptions (18), third for most receptions in one game (12), and fifth for most career receptions (141).
He did all that despite having his senior season in 2008 cut short by a knee injury that paved the way for Randall Cobb to play an even bigger role for the Cats as a true freshman.
But if not for his high school sweetheart, Mindy, none of those numbers probably would have ever happened.
“I am old school and Dicky was a challenge,” Brooks said during his return to UK for a reunion of the 2006-08 bowl winning teams that included Lyons. “I love him to death. He is as competitive as any player I ever coached.”
But Lyons admits he would have “got kicked off my sophomore year” if Mindy had not come to Lexington to attend UK.
“I went to jail my freshman year for getting in a fight at a concert,” Lyons said. “Right after that I got in trouble at home. Then I got in trouble with Coach. I got a 1.0 (grade-point average) my freshman year. I failed remedial math. I wasn’t going to make it.”
Hurricane Katrina had forced Mindy to move from Louisiana to Alabama. Then she came to Kentucky.
They eventually married and have three children — ages 5, 2 and 9 months.
“She stabilized my life. We dated since we were 15 and have been in love and am still in love with her,” Lyons said during the Brooks’ reunion weekend. “When it came to my career here, it was her. It really was. I had somewhere to go. I loved her. I wanted to make her happy.”
The first time I saw Mindy Howell was at a UK football practice when she was wearing a No. 12 jersey (Lyons’ number) that had the “Future Mrs. Lyons” on the back. She brought that same jersey back to Lexington for the reunion and now it says “Mrs. Lyons” on the back — and it still fit.
“He was wild. On the way here we rode up with (former player) Jacob Dufrene, who is from Louisiana, too, and his wife and he was telling all these stories and they were saying, ‘When did that stop?’ He said, ‘When Mindy got here,’” Mindy said.
She did a little bit of everything for him. She fixed meals, made sure he got to class, made sure he stayed out of trouble.
“I kept him accountable all the time,” she said.
It wasn’t easy. Her first semester at UK she struggled academically because she was so focused on “getting him right” after his past issues.
“I was killing myself, too. It was some motherly type love the first semester,” she laughed and said.
She was 20 when she got to Lexington and admits it might have been a big naive of her to even come to be with her high school sweetheart.
“I think the idea of if I had come freshman year was a little more naive. That’s why I didn’t. I thought, ’It’s been two years and we are still sticking this out, his personality I can handle. This may happen and work out.’ It was good timing and worked out,” she said.
They now live in Mandeville, La. — about 45 minutes north of New Orleans. He’s a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual.
“I am a stay at home mom with four kids (including her husband). We have two boys, one girl. They are all just like him,” Mindy said. “What you see is what you still get with him. The only thing that has changed is that he grew up a little bit. He is a little bit more humble about everything.
“There is no filter. You know everything he is feeling or thinking. That is who he is. That hasn’t changed. Everybody to this day when they seem me says, ‘Bless your heart’ or ‘You are an angel.’ But I am used to it. I love it.”
She believes Brooks appreciates what she did for her husband by coming to Lexington when she did.
“Coach Brooks embraced it. I am sure he probably realized the change in Richard after I came here,” she said.
And yes, she still calls him Richard. That’s what everyone called him until he got to UK and then offensive coordinator Joker Phillips started calling him Dicky after his father, former UK football star Dicky Lyons Sr.
“He has always been Richard. Ever since the name change here when he went back home he was Dicky. Me, his sisters and mom call him Richard. But all his friends call him Dicky,” Mindy said.
His former teammates had a lot of Dicky Lyons’ stories to share during the reunion weekend. As usual, he had a lot to say as well.
“It was so much fun here. I liked being in the background and watching him reminisce and tell all those stories to those guys instead of telling me over and over and over like he has for years,” Mindy said.
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