This feature story on Mark Pyles originally ran in the program for Bucknell's game against Marist on Sept. 2, 2017.
S.A.M. is an acronym that carries considerable meaning for the Bucknell football team. Over the years, it’s been emblazoned on wristbands, workout shirts and more to remind players of the guiding principle of the program: to be selfless, accountable and mentally tough.
So it’s only fitting that Pyles has patrolled the field as the Bison’s “Sam” linebacker for the past two, going on three seasons. A rare two-time captain, he embodies the three core values head coach Joe Susan strives to instill in his players.
“When it comes to the way he approaches the game, Mark is as good as it gets in college football,” said first-year assistant coach Mike Weick, who works with the linebackers. “He’s selfless and accountable in everything he does. If he makes a mistake, he’s the first one to admit it and work to fix it. He’s also one of the most mentally tough individuals I’ve ever been around. It’s amazing how he balances everything we ask him to do.”
Pyles has been a key contributor since his freshman year, when he was one of only three newcomers to appear in all 11 games. As a sophomore, he transitioned into a starting role and tied for fifth in the Patriot League with 95 tackles (53 solo) en route to his first of two All-Patriot League Second Team nods.
“What makes Mark special is he works harder than everybody else,” Weick said. “That’s what allowed him to excel at the college level and be a starter in the Patriot League as a sophomore. Through his preparation in the weight room, the way he eats and takes care of his body, he’s able to be consistent at such a high level.”
Pyles, who enters 2017 with 158 tackles (91 solo), 11 tackles for a loss and four sacks in 31 games, boasts impressive numbers, but his impact on the defense runs much deeper. A former 4A All-State quarterback out of Lebanon High School, he’s become a quarterback of a different sort at Bucknell.
“His high school coach still thinks he should be the quarterback here, but there’s no doubt he’s the quarterback of our defense,” Susan said with a chuckle. “He makes all of our defensive calls, and he’s an outstanding kid and an outstanding player.”
Added Weick: “He’s our general out there. He understands opponent tendencies from the same kind of level we do as a coaching staff. It’s like having a coach on the field.”
While Pyles tends to lead by example, he also invests considerable time in mentoring the players behind him on the depth chart, much like a coach. A year ago at this time, he was sidelined with an injury days before the Bison’s season opener at Marist. But he still made an impact by helping freshman Sam Chitty prepare to make his first career start.
“I was a little freaked out because I didn’t expect to start right away, but Mark was right there, coaching me up, helping me out,” Chitty said. “I probably wouldn’t been able to do it if it weren’t for him being there for me. He’s definitely been a role model and big brother for me since I joined the program, and I’ve ”
Fellow senior Ben Richard echoed Chitty’s comment about Pyles being a role model, adding “everybody really looks up to Mark because he's doing the right thing all the time.”
And Pyles does the right thing all the time because he wants to help the team win. All of the individual awards and honors, while nice, mean little to him. When asked what his goal is for his senior season, he answered without hesitation.
“I want to win a Patriot League championship,” he said. “That’s the ultimate prize, and it’s what we’re all working towards.”
And there’s no question that Pyles will be helping to lead the way from his position at “Sam” linebacker.
The Pyles File
- 2017 team captain with Abdullah Anderson and Ben Richard
- 2016 & 2015 All-Patriot League Second Team
- 2016 team captain with Julién Davenport and Ben Schumacher
- 2016 Preseason All-Patriot League
- Three-time Bucknell Strength & Conditioning MVP
- Three-time Patriot League Academic Honor Roll member
- 2016 Bucknell Football Leadership Award recipient
- Ninth Bison to serve as team captain more than once (fifth since 1950)
- Tied for fifth in the Patriot League with a team-best 95 tackles in 2015
- Has enjoyed six double-figure tackle games in his career