As one of the top collegiate inside linebackers in the country, Virginia Tech senior Jack Tyler will certainly be suiting up for an NFL team next season, but despite a formidable playing career at Oakton High School, his football future didn’t look so clear when he graduated in 2009. In fact, Tyler had no BCS offers.
“My dad and I talk about this all the time, but honestly, my expectations were so low going into college that I didn’t really know what to expect,” Tyler said. “I knew if I touched the field I would be happy. I just wanted to play.”
Not only did Tyler walk on to Virginia Tech’s football squad to earn himself a scholarship, but the 22-year-old has developed into the Hokies’ most consistent player and defensive leader over the last four years.
Playing at Virginia Tech is a dream come true for Tyler, who wanted to follow in 2005 Oakton graduate Cody Grimm’s footsteps, a close family friend and another who found success with the team after a walk-on offer.
“I got a good understanding how they treated walk-ons here and how you’re treated the same as everyone, and it was a place I wanted to be,” Tyler said. “Plus, I wanted to play for Coach [Bud] Foster, who I knew was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.”
The son of Tim and Maggie Mueller-Tyler of Fairfax, Jack has turned himself into an all-ACC linebacker and was named one of VT’s four permanent captains for his senior year.
In the team’s first four games this season, the 6’1”, 230-pound Tyler recorded a team-high eight tackles and a sack against top ranked Alabama; paced the defense with 11 tackles in a win against Western Carolina; made six tackles against East Carolina in a 15-10 victory; and was a driving force in the triple-overtime 29-21 win over Marshall this past weekend with eight tackles.
“Team-wise, our goal is to win the ACC and win the national championship. Obviously, having lost that first game, it’s going to be an uphill battle to win the national championship, but we still have the ACC goals intact and the opportunity to go to a good bowl game,” he said. “Individually, I just want to do the best I can. Starting off, my expectations were low, but now they are through the roof. I want to be an All-American and be the best linebacker ever to play at Virginia Tech.”
He’s well on his way. Last season, Tyler was Tech’s leading tackler with 119 stops and he also registered 13 quarterback hurries and 2.5 sacks. In 2011, he played over 300 snaps on defense and 67 on special teams, finishing with 42 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery.
At Oakton High, Tyler recorded 398 tackles and 10 interceptions for the Cougars, and was named the state’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior after posting a school-record 147 tackles to go with five interceptions, three sacks and a pair of defensive touchdowns.
“He was a fierce competitor, very smart, and physically tough—but the most special thing was he was willing to work hard to be great,” said Joe Thompson, head coach of Oakton’s football team the years Tyler played, and currently assistant principal of Annandale High School. “Jack and his family are great people. I’m very proud of what he has been able to do as a person as much as a player.”
One of Thompson’s best memories of his defensive star was Tyler’s 20 tackles against Robinson during his junior year.
“We don’t usually have players get in double digits in tackles against a Mark Bendorf coached team,” he said. “Jack was all over the place that afternoon, and I think it was the first real indication he could play at a higher level.”
Jason Rowley, current varsity football head coach of the Oakton Cougars and Tyler’s defensive coordinator during his years with the team, praises Tyler’s football IQ and hard work before game time, calling his knack for getting to the football having less to do with instincts and more to do with tireless preparation.
“Jack is one of the smartest football players I’ve coached in 18 years. He started at middle linebacker for us for three years. By the time he was a senior, he had the ability, if I would’ve let him, to call the defense himself,” Rowley said. “He watched a ton of film and knew his scouting reports inside and out. He would study team’s tendencies from the scouting reports and was able to diagnose plays quickly.”
Tyler looks back fondly on his years at Oakton and singles out the camaraderie he had with his teammates—the same 15-20 guys he still calls his best friends. He admits that he was a little bigheaded and somewhat cocky in high school, but thanks his coaches for teaching him how to mature.
“My senior year, I remember Coach Rowley and (linebacker) Coach Newman instilling in me that I needed to be humble and gracious and even though I may have been the ‘Big Man on Campus’ in high school, that going into college I was going to be a regular average Joe and have to work my butt off to be the player I wanted to be,” he said. “I always had good coaching and learned from the best and I think that’s one of the reasons I am the player I am today.”
Rowley has kept a close eye on Tyler’s college career and has stayed in touch with his star player through the years.
“In terms of what I have seen in his college game, it has been a lot of the same as what we saw in him as a high school player. He is just consistent,” he said. “In high school, we used to tell recruiters, ‘Jack doesn’t make highlight plays, he just makes every play.’ Jack led Virginia Tech in tackles last year because he consistently does his job and plays extremely well within the system.”
Outside of football, Tyler said he enjoys all aspects of his college experience and although the thought of next year and possibly fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL lingers in the back of his mind, there’s still a lot he wants to accomplish at Virginia Tech.
“I feel so fortunate that I’ve landed in this perfect position for myself and my family and had this opportunity to be successful on and off the field,” he said. “I’ve had this dream of playing in the NFL since I was little, and now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I just want to continue to make NOVA proud.”