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November 7, 2013

Rolling with his role

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tyrel Wilson hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in his career for his role on Tech’s defensive line, but he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches for his work ethic and unselfish attitude

Tyrel Wilson doesn’t have a lot of free time because of his responsibilities with football and academics, but longboarding around campus has become one of his newfound passions.

He had spent four years as a football player and never done a radio interview. And of course, he received his first invitation to be on Tech Talk Live!, the athletics department’s live Monday night radio show at Bull & Bones Brewhaus and Grill, only moments before he was scheduled to be there and on the air.

Tyrel Wilson managed to arrive on time. But he was nervous.

“I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared and know what’s going on,” he said. “But I had a blast doing it. I was cracking jokes, and even asked for Coach Beamer’s autograph as he was going on the radio.

“I don’t mind it, but I don’t seek attention. That’s not my type of thing.”

That may explain why Tech fans know so little about this young man. Sure, they recognize his name, but for someone who has played in nearly 50 games (49 as of the time of this writing) and started a handful in his career, he generates little in the way of conversation among Hokie Nation.

That’s not to diminish his role. Yes, he doesn’t record the sacks of a James Gayle or the interceptions of a Kendall Fuller or the sheer volume of tackles of a Jack Tyler. But he plays his defensive end position with the consistency and dependability that coaches love. He is one of those blue-collar, behind-the-scenes types of players, the type who help their teams win games and championships and also the type who tend to be taken for granted.

“Not by me,” Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles said.

As his collegiate days wind down, Wilson spends his free time prepping for the final few games of the season and crafting his newfound hobby – longboarding. Coming out of Hampton High School in the Tidewater part of the state, he never expected to be playing for Wiles. He never expected to be a defensive end. He played linebacker for the Crabbers and helped them win a state championship in 2005, along with a name actually quite familiar to Tech fans – Tyrod Taylor.

Tyrel Wilson’s steady and unselfish play over the past four
seasons has earned him the respect of both his teammates
and the coaching staff.

In September of his senior year, he committed to Tech over Tennessee, choosing the Hokies primarily because of Bud Foster, Tech’s defensive coordinator. He liked Foster’s scheme and expected to play for him at the backer position.

“He was hard nosed and had a defense that bashed people in the mouth,” Wilson said. “That’s what I grew up with in high school. He [Foster] was always talking about your motor and 11 hats to the ball. I liked that mentality. It also beat that eight-hour trip to Knoxville. You could see Blacksburg loved Virginia Tech and loved football. It all just fit in together.”

Perhaps Wilson was destined to play defensive end, though. After all, his father, James, played the position, carving out a nice career at Tennessee and later going to the NFL.

James Wilson, who won three state championships at the same Hampton High during his playing days in the mid-1980s, actually signed with Tech in 1989. But a series of circumstances, mostly beyond his control, led to him never arriving at Tech and getting a release from his letter of intent. He wound up at Tennessee, where he recorded 104 tackles and 20.5 sacks in his career.

Tyrel was born during his dad’s playing days at Tennessee, and he vaguely remembers going to some games. He remembers sitting in the end zone with his grandfather underneath a poncho watching his dad play in the rain.

After a stint with the Detroit Lions, James Wilson moved his family back to his hometown of Hampton. He later played in NFL Europe, but has been a firefighter for the city of Suffolk for many years, while his wife, Shari, currently works as a real estate agent. Together, they have raised their three sons admirably in a disciplined manner, keeping them away from the troubles that tend to grab young people in that area.

“I think growing up in Hampton made me who I am,” Tyrel said. “A lot of people are like, ‘How can you live here?’ just because of the area and all the drama that goes on. But it’s my city. I’ve always carried my city on my back. I always try to represent and be that good one that got out of there.

“My parents had certain requirements. They weren’t letting me out running around. I had to be home at a certain time. But I never had time to do anything. I was always doing sports, and I was happy doing that.

“But I had to maintain my grades and I had to do chores. I had to cut the grass and do stuff like that. But my parents weren’t overly strict. I had my share of chores, but at the same time, they would let me experience things. As long as I did my part, I was fine.”

That’s what he has done here at Tech – his part. For starters, he took care of things in the classroom, graduating last May with a degree in sociology. As part of his degree requirements, he performed an internship with the Virginia Tech Police Department, and he may pursue a career in law enforcement down the road.

On the field, he has given Tech solid reps as a reserve, playing in every game his first three seasons at Tech after taking a redshirt year during the 2009 season. This season, he has played in every game except for one, missing the Western Carolina game with a knee injury. He also participates on special teams.

“He’s been a great teammate and a good player,” Wiles said. “He’s just a great kid, a great person and a big part of the team. I know he wants to play more, but we’re fortunate to have a lot of good defensive ends this year and that limits reps for everybody. But I trust him. He’s been a great asset to the team.”

“Every sport I’ve played, I’ve started,” Wilson said. “I’ve never been the second guy. But at this point, I know my role on the team, and I try to help out as much as I can. It’s a team, not an ‘I’. It’s not an individual sport. I’ve learn to adapt and done what I needed to do.”

Wilson may not be grabbing the headlines every Saturday for the Hokies. He may not be directly under the glare of the spotlight. But when he gets on the field, he gets the job done.

For that, Hokie Nation should take notice.