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Dropping the Anchor

Seneca Valley’s Lawson, Lyczek headed to Naval Academy
Aiden Lyczek, center, and Luke Lawson, right, talk to one of their coaches while starring in youth football for Seneca Valley. Submitted Photo

Aiden Lyczek grew up in a military background. Luke Lawson recently warmed up to the idea of that sort of lifestyle.

Both Seneca Valley standouts have chosen to suit up for the U.S. Naval Academy next fall.

“To have even one player on your team have the opportunity and then commit to a military academy is a big deal,” said Raiders’ coach Ron Butschle. “Obviously, in order to get into one of those academies, you’ve got to be more than just a good football player.”

You also have to welcome a different type of environment.

Midshipmen are required to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. They wear uniforms to class. The regimented routine requires them to focus on every last detail, down to making their beds each morning.

That structure wasn’t something that originally fancied Lawson, who also had opportunities with a pair of Ivy League schools, along with FCS programs Duquesne and St. Francis. He only took a visit to the school at the behest of his father, Jason Lawson.

Seneca Valley seniors Luke Lawson, left, and Aiden Lyczek, right, have committed to continue their academic and football careers at the U.S. Naval Academy. Submitted Photo

“I really didn’t want to go up to Navy,” Luke said. “I really didn’t think the military life was for me.”

That changed on his trip to Annapolis, Md., when he got the chance to familiarize himself with coach Ken Niumatolo’s program.

“I thought I was going to see robots,” Luke said. “I thought I was going to see all these people in uniform that were just, ‘Hut, two, three, four.’

“I was so surprised.”

A few weeks later, Luke brought Aiden along for another tour. The latter’s father, Greg Lyczek, was in the Army for 21 years. He preferred his son attend his alma mater — and Navy’s arch rival — the U.S. Military Academy.

At first, Aiden was of the same mindset. He saw himself playing for the Black Knights. With some badgering from Luke, that changed.

“We had a buddy system there,” Aiden said. “Me and Luke always work together really well. I thought we’d continue that. We’ve been playing since we were seven years old.”

Greg will be faced with a choice when his school goes up against his son’s in a rivalry series that dates back to 1890.

“I think it’ll be fun,” Aiden said of his dad’s conflict of interest. “He’s just going to be happy to go to one of those games. He’ll definitely be cheering for me.”

The consistency of Navy’s coaching staff — Niumatolo is entering his 25th year with the program — was also a selling point for Luke.

“You don’t see a lot of college programs anymore with coaches that have been there for 20 years,” he said. “Those guys, they’re in for Annapolis. They’re in for their guys.”

Butschle stresses the opportunity for the tandem to sharpen one skill in particular.

“What people in the military do is not football,” he said. “It’s not a game. “You’ve got to be a real-life leader to do that. You can talk about leadership on a football field all you want. It’s not preparing men and women to go into battle … That’s real stuff.”

With the Midshipmen, Aiden will play a combination of defensive end and outside linebacker.

“He’s big, he’s long, and he’s athletic,” Butschle said. “All three of those things are really big pluses in terms of what you can do without.”

On the edge, he combines his stature with physicality and a skill position sort of speed, making it hard on whatever offensive lineman standing in his way. On offense, Aiden lines up as a hybrid fullback/receiver.

“He’s got that kind of skill set as an athlete,” Butschle said. “We’re going to use him as a big part of the overall puzzle in terms of our offensive and defensive schemes.”

Also a two-way player for the Raiders, Luke has been starting since his sophomore campaign. As a junior a season ago, he pulled in 48 passes for 685 yards and six scores. He also registered 29 takedowns and an intereception.

“As a safety and receiver, he’s fast, he’s big, and he can do all the things that you want those positions to be able to do,” Butschle said. “One of his biggest assets is his mental maturity and his football IQ.

“We have some really good leaders on this team, but I think Luke is the guy that’s going to pull us even farther.”

He’ll be used as a linebacker at the next level.

“I think that’s probably my best fit for college,” Luke said. “I love the physicality. I’ve been a defensive guy my entire life. You’re hitting people on defense, you’re not getting hit like you are on offense.”

The duo’s senior season will get underway when Seneca Valley hosts Penn Hills on Friday.