Noah Lyles, a 19-year old sprinter from Alexandria, was just 0.09 seconds away from making the U.S. Olympic team, but his blazing times in recent months were enough to convince both Lyles and his speedy younger brother, Josephus, to bypass college running careers and turn professional immediately.
The recent T.C. Williams High graduates both signed eight-year contracts with Adidas on Friday. The brothers’ decision to turn pro came just weeks before they were expected to begin classes at the University of Florida. Noah hinted at the trials earlier this month in Eugene, Ore., that he was keeping his options open, and the family has been weighing its options for several weeks.
“We’d been debating it, and we agreed early on, it’s either both of us go pro or we both go to college. We’re not going to split,” Josephus said Friday night. “So this was a joint decision. It’s pretty amazing to have someone who’s always going to have your back, who you can always count on it. It makes it that much more meaningful that we could do this together.”
They’re believed to be the first male sprinters to jump straight from preps to a pro career. Sprinter Allyson Felix, who’s preparing for her fourth Olympics, made headlines when she passed over college in 2003. Last year, Candace Hill signed a 10-year contract with Asics at the age of 16 and Kaylin Whitney signed with Nike at age 17.
Earlier this month, Drew Hunter, a middle-distance runner from Loudoun Valley High, decided to turn professional right out of high school, signing a 10-year deal with Adidas.
The runners’ mother, Keisha Caine, said a key factor in the decision was Adidas agreeing to pay for the brothers’ college education and provide a chaperone at events until they turn 21.
“I told them that I would be more comfortable if they did it the traditional way, going to school on a track scholarship but promised them I would research what was available,” she said. “We researched and had countless meetings. And now they get to do what they love to do, earn an income and still go to school.”
Josephus, who signed the contract on his 18th birthday, has impressed with his strong performances in the 400 meters this season but has been sidelined the past 2½ months with a quadriceps injury that forced him to miss the trials.
“It’s hard to come out, knowing you can do this,” Noah said earlier this month of his brother missing trials. “It hurts knowing you can’t get out there.”
Competing in the shorter distances, Noah, meanwhile, has seen his star rise rapidly. He was one of two high school runners to reach the finals at the Olympic trials in the 200 meters, where he set a high school record, finishing in 20.09 seconds, and earlier this week at the IAAF world junior championships in Poland, he won the 100-meter title, finishing in 10.17.
Noah has been repeatedly asked in recent weeks whether he intended to pass over college. “If it happens and the money’s right and everything lines up, that’s definitely something I’ll consider,” he said during the trials.
On Friday night, the brothers answered the question. Each simultaneously tweeted his name and “pro athlete.”
“We’re extremely excited,” Josephus said. “Just to be able to be able to go on so far in our athletic career at such a young age — very few people have ever gone pro out of high school. It’s a blessing.”
The brothers are still finalizing their schooling and training plans for the fall.