The title of the "Lost" episode flashes on the screen, and Colt Lyerla can't help but laugh.

"Not in Portland," it's called, and he doesn't need the reminder. He is exceedingly aware of where his itinerant life has taken him this time, 2,000 miles away from that city and the nearby suburb, Hillsboro, where he was raised. He's holed up now in a temporary, pre-furnished apartment in De Pere, Wisc., an airy second-story unit with a living room balcony and warm wood paneling, a place that in no way announces itself as the home of a professional football player apart from a thin white nameplate featuring a Green Bay Packers logo, his last name and his jersey number — he didn't get to pick it — nestled atop the door frame to his bedroom.

It is the closest thing he has to a permanent address. In a week, he'll pack up and move again, crammed into a dormitory a few miles up the road and attempt to make the Packers roster as an undrafted free agent, chasing the dream he was supposed to have caught up to already. Within a matter of weeks an injury will put it out of reach again, but even so, there is still optimism and hope: Finally, he is free to play the game for himself and his own reasons.

In person, he appears impossibly large. His measurements — 6'4, 242 pounds, as of February's NFL Combine — are plausible enough, but up close, the body appears to be something out of a create-a-player generator in a video game, his outsized proportions more virtual reality than man-made. It starts with the hands, soft tensile masses perfectly engineered to catch footballs. His enormous calves challenge the elasticity of his socks, while his forearms seem as thick as telephone poles. Even as he sits at the small glass kitchen table, in a baggy white T-shirt and black basketball shorts, he seems to loom over it. His dark brown eyes, cleft chin and strong, smooth jaw line complete the look of someone who has never been an underdog on the field, and who has never lacked attention.

This body, and the things it can do, has brought him to the precipice of the NFL. Almost from the beginning, it meant more to others than it did to him, to so many who wanted to latch onto the talent he possessed and make a piece of it their own. It's been a symbol of hope, something he didn't ask for yet obliged all the same. It made him different, when he ached so badly to be normal.

Now, it's viewed as a referendum on his morality. The diamond earrings, the tightly buzzed scalp, the tattoos scattered across his upper half — together, they're taken as visual affirmation of a bad seed, a burnout. For months, he has watched silently, reading every word written about him as his life spiraled out of control, each one scraping a little more skin off a tender hide. Drug addict. Quitter. Prima donna. Thug. Another Aaron Hernandez. Maybe if they knew about the broken home, one without structure or stability, they would understand the burden of fumbling through adolescence largely on his own. Maybe if they realized the strain of suffocating in a town that asked so much of him, all because of the way he played a game, they could grasp why so many mistakes were predicated on wanting to escape. Maybe if they understood how hard he's tried to do the right thing, despite never being taught how, no one would send him Bibles and tell him that Jesus needs to save his soul.

So he leans forward at the table, and begins to speak. About growing up alone, about his abrupt departure from the Oregon Ducks football team, about the subsequent arrest for cocaine possession, and the sentence that left him toiling on a road crew mere days before the NFL Combine, about the controversial tweets about the Sandy Hook school shootings, and the near-implosion of his football career, about how he went from a surefire first-round draft pick to radioactive, undraftable, in under a year. And then, after all of that, about the one decision he believes could have prevented everything, if only he had the power to make it for himself.

None of this is easy to speak about, but his eyes mostly focus straight ahead as he talks. Occasionally, they veer off to the side, probing the horizon for a happier memory or thought, usually about his family or the cluster of teachers and coaches who have steadfastly stood by him, perhaps the only ones left who still believe in him. Sometimes, when he recounts a particularly bad chapter, they tilt downward and he speaks more slowly, nervously puffing out the bottom of his shirt with his thumbs and punctuating the gaps in conversation with heavy sighs. At least once, he appears to be on the verge of tears. But he presses on, the sentences spilling out, one purpose in mind.

"I just don't want people to think I'm a bad person," he says, an almost-pleading quality to his voice.