This is a tale that seemingly has been written before, and now it appears again.
It’s a story about an undersized linebacker from Oakton High School who walks on to Virginia Tech’s football team and becomes a true star, leading one of the nation’s best defenses.
He never appeared on any recruiting lists before arriving on campus, but by the time he ran onto Worsham Field at Lane Stadium for his senior day introduction, he had completed a tremendous career and received perhaps the loudest roar of any player on Tech’s team.
Well, the first time you read this story was in 2005 when Cody Grimm walked on at Tech, earned a scholarship, became a three-year starter and was named All-ACC and an All-American as a senior.
The guy who replaced Grimm at linebacker for Oakton was, of course, Jack Tyler, who, despite breaking all of Grimm’s tackling records at Oakton, didn’t have a single FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision] scholarship offer.
What to do?
Walk on at Virginia Tech, of course.
History has a way of repeating itself, eh?
For the record, like Grimm, Tyler had a terrific senior season in 2008 at Oakton High when he set a school record with 147 tackles to go along with five interceptions, three sacks and a pair of defensive touchdowns.
There was that 36-tackle game against Robinson High School that turned heads. Tyler was a good student and very solid high school football and lacrosse player, “but I never thought this [having such a great career at Tech] would happen,” he said recently.
But he dreamed. He saw what Grimm accomplished at Tech and admits to this day that he always had looked up to Grimm even back in high school. Tyler then followed Grimm’s path by walking on to Virginia Tech’s team in 2009.
The two remained tight during Tyler’s freshman year – when Tyler had to pay his own way to go to school. But Tech coaches noted Tyler’s potential and awarded him a scholarship in the spring of 2010.
Then, as a redshirt freshman, Tyler played in every game and started in the Orange Bowl. As a sophomore, he played more than 300 snaps and started four games, including the ACC championship game against Clemson.
Then as a junior, Tyler exploded. He started every game, led the Hokies with 119 tackles and was named first-team All-ACC as a linebacker by the league’s coaches.
Now, as a senior, he’s once again leading the team in tackles and directing a defense that’s been ranked in the top 10 all season long.
“Did I expect all of this? Back from five years ago?” Tyler asked rhetorically. “This … is unbelievable.
“I was just a freshman walk-on trying to find his way. Never thought any of this would happen. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”
He was named all-state as a linebacker his senior season, but his size left some recruiters wary. When he committed to walk on at Tech in 2009, he was rated just the No. 68 prospect in Virginia: http://blogs.roanoke.com/insiders/2009/02/all-state-lb-picks-tech/
But Tyler had a lot of things going for him.
He had great bloodlines – his father, Tim, was a Division I athlete who played football at East Carolina. The younger Tyler came from a terrific high school program and had very solid coaching under Jason Rowley, the current head coach at Oakton who was Tyler’s defensive coordinator during his years with the Cougars.
He had a great role model in Grimm. And he had a remarkable mentor and teacher in Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
“We have the best defensive coaching staff in the country,” Tyler said. “We could roll out long snappers to play middle linebacker on this team, and they’d make just as many tackles as I do.”
Modesty aside, Tyler is an instinctive, cerebral football player who, just like Grimm, has thrived in Foster’s system.
“Our defense is 90 percent ‘Check with me’s,’ which is Coach Foster giving us the personnel and whatever formation they [the opponent] come up with,” Tyler said. “Me and Kyshoen [Jarrett] call the defense, and we get everyone lined up. It’s easy. If they come out in trips [three wide receivers], I’m covering this guy, or I’m covering the back. There’s no confusion. You always feel like you’re in a good defense because, whatever formation you see, we have a good defense for it.”
After years of seeing Foster’s sideline signals, Tyler admitted that, at times, he doesn’t even wait for Foster to finish the call before he yells it out himself.
“I look over at Coach, and I know what he’s going to call. He gets halfway through the call, and I turn around and just call it because I’ve seen it a million times,” Tyler said.
That defense is having a terrific season. It ranks among the national leaders in sacks, tackles for loss and interceptions.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” he said. “We love playing with each other and having those great defensive stats like that for each other. Our defensive line helps our defensive backs get those interceptions. And our defensive backs cover guys long enough that we can get all those sacks. We know we work off each other. We have that camaraderie in the defensive meeting room.”
On the field, Tyler tops the Hokies in tackles once again and is serving as a true leader for the team. Away from the field, he looks and acts not so much like an All-ACC linebacker, but more like a normal kid from Northern Virginia who’s enrolled at Tech – always cutting up with his friends and keeping things loose.
“I’m enjoying every moment of it,” Tyler said. “I’m having a great time. I could’ve been just another special teams player here and nobody ever would’ve heard my name. I’ve very excited and blessed.”
Now, just a couple weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, he’s getting ready for his senior day at Virginia Tech.
Tyler will run onto Worsham Field before the Maryland game to meet his parents, Tim and Maggie, at midfield, and he’ll be welcomed by a thunderous roar from the crowd at Lane Stadium – just like the ovation we heard for Grimm a few years ago.
It’s the same story – from a star at Oakton High to a walk-on at Tech to an All-ACC linebacker. We’ve seen (and told) this story twice – and it never gets old.
Rogers next in line?
So there was Grimm and then Tyler. Who’s next?
“It’s going to be Sam Rogers,” Tyler predicted. “Definitely. Just the way he works. I noticed it right away when he got here. He’s always in film room, always trying to get better. He learned our playbook faster than 90 percent of the offense. He works his butt off. You’re going to know his name for a long time.”
Rogers joined Virginia Tech’s football team as an invited walk-on for this season and earned the starting fullback position. A two-time, first-team All-Metro selection by The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rogers played quarterback, receiver, running back and multiple positions on defense at Hanover High School in Mechanicsville, Va., last season.
“I didn’t have many offers right away,” Rogers told me. “Coming out of high school, the only offers I had were Bucknell and St. Francis (Pa.), which are I-AA [FCS] schools.”
He thought he could do better, and both Virginia Tech and Virginia invited him to walk on.
“My mom went to UVa, so she might’ve been pushing me to UVa, but I realized that Tech was the right place for me,” he said. “I saw how the team reacted to the 7-6 season.
“The character of the team is outstanding. That’s the kind of people I want to surround myself with. You can see the character of the coaches here, and they judge people by how hard they play.”
As a true freshman, Rogers has played a bunch this season, and everyone on the sidelines saw his competitiveness, tenacity and passion when he injured his ankle in the game against North Carolina. He became quite frustrated when told he was out for the rest of the contest.
“Yeah, I have to apologize to the trainers,” Rogers said. “I wasn’t nice to them. I just wanted to get back on the field, just tape me up and get me back out there because you want to be there for your team and show them that you’ll do anything you can to get back on the field.”
However, his ankle was severely sprained, and he was out for the game.
“After that, you live in the training room,” he said. “That’s what you do when you get hurt. I was in there from 6:30-11:30 a.m. and then had lunch and then came back for more ice.”
Rogers was back the next week for the Hokies’ game with Pittsburgh, and he hasn’t missed a game yet during his rookie season at Tech.
Is he the next seemingly unheralded player who will blossom in Tech’s walk-on program? We’ll be keeping an eye on him for sure.
Tech men’s hoops team to visit Big Apple
As you know, whenever Virginia Tech’s basketball team plays in New York City, we always seem to have a nice turnout. In a few weeks, the Hokies will play two games at the Barclay’s Center, the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Seton Hall are the four teams that will play in Brooklyn as part of this year’s Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. On Friday, Nov. 22, Oklahoma takes on Seton Hall at 7 p.m. The Hokies will face the Spartans in the second game. Then, on Saturday the 23rd, the consolation game is at 7 p.m. followed by the championship game.
For more info, including ticket details, check out this website: http://www.cvcclassic.com/
For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).