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September 18, 2012

Tyler tackling anything in his way toward being a great one

By: Jimmy Robertson

For the average Tech fan, sitting in the overcast that was Labor Day evening, it would be hard to imagine that tackling machine Jack Tyler, the anchor of the Hokies’ defense and the crux of its lunch-pail mentality, nearly wound up striving for gridiron glory in Buffalo.

For the Bulls, that is. Not the Bills.

As Tyler made tackle after tackle in the Hokies’ season opener against Georgia Tech, practically a one-man Raid against the Yellow Jackets’ offensive nest, he removed any doubts that he was too short and too slow and simply not good enough to play big-boy football. With 65,000-plus orange-clad fans watching and millions more witnessing over the ESPN cameras, Tyler amassed 17 tackles according to the Virginia Tech stats crew.

The sharp eye of defensive coordinator Bud Foster, grading the film the day after the game, credited the redshirt junior with 15 solo stops and nine assists – 24 in all in a performance that probably made Rick Razzano smile. For the younger generation, Razzano is a former Tech linebacker from the mid-1970s who never recorded fewer than 140 tackles in a season.

The next day, the ACC named Tyler the conference’s linebacker of the week – his first such honor.

“I’m obviously very excited,” Tyler said. “One of my goals coming in was to be the very best I could be. Fortunately, I had a good game, and they thought I was good enough to be nominated for it. It’s very exciting for me and all my family back home.”

Home is Oakton, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., and the place that college recruiters ignored during Tyler’s career at Oakton High School. Tyler only made tackle after tackle during his four years on the varsity squad at Oakton. As a senior, he posted 147 of those things, was named the Group AAA defensive player of the year in Virginia and earned a spot on the prestigious All-Met team by The Washington Post.

Yet college coaches showed no interest. As stated earlier, they felt he was too short or too slow. Some noticed he ran with a slight limp, the result of a minor back injury (he underwent surgery for it later while at Tech.). But he kept making tackles and plays.

On signing day in 2009, no one took a chance. Only one Division I program had offered him a scholarship – the Buffalo University Bulls out of the MAC.

“That came on signing day,” Tyler said. “They called and offered, so you know the guy they wanted didn’t sign and they just called me up.

“Basically, my recruiting was sitting around just waiting to see if I would get an offer – ever.”

But Foster and Torrian Gray, Tech’s experienced recruiters who split the Northern Virginia area, knew all about Tyler. While they, too, questioned his physical attributes, they liked his instincts and feel for the game. They invited him to a one-day camp in June after his junior year to get more of an evaluation. Tyler almost didn’t go because he also played lacrosse and Oakton was playing for the state championship that day.

But Gray convinced him to come. So Tyler and his dad came for the morning session, and Tech’s coaches liked what they saw, telling Tyler that they wanted him as a preferred walk-on. The Tylers left in time to get back for the lacrosse match, and Tyler knew by the time he arrived what he wanted to do.

“My dad told me you could be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond,” Tyler said. “If you’re a small fish in a big pond, you’ve got room to grow. So that’s exactly what I did. I wanted to come here and see if I could make a name for myself.”

He’s doing that, for sure. He actually started doing that last year, filling in when Bruce Taylor went down for the year with an injury. He expected to be in a reserve role this season, but Tariq Edwards’ injury provided Tyler with another opportunity.

It’s hard to see Tyler going back into a reserve role any time soon.

It’s hard to see anyone doubting him again after his season-opening performance.

“Hopefully, I’ve showed everyone that I’m capable, even though I’m not as physically gifted as some people, I guess,” Tyler said. “Hopefully, I’ve shown that I can play at a high level and that I’m pretty good.”

Judging from what they’ve seen the past two years, Tech fans shouldn’t need any more convincing.

Instead, they should be thankful Jack Tyler is in Blacksburg – and not Buffalo.