BLACKSBURG – Jack Tyler already knew what the inside of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer's office looked like from a previous, far more pleasant visit a little over a year before Tyler was sitting there again in the summer of 2011.
On that second visit, Tyler didn't exactly know what to expect, but he was pretty sure he wasn't going to enjoy it. He was accompanied by defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who sat next to Tyler while Beamer picked up the phone. Tyler's father, Tim, was on the other end.
Jack was about to get the shape-up-or-ship-out talk. Since earning a scholarship in the spring of 2010 after walking on at Tech from Oakton High in Oakton, his grades had plummeted. His social schedule was interfering with football and academic pursuits.
He was nowhere near the player and defensive leader he has become.
"(The meeting in Beamer's office) really helped turned my life around," Jack said. "It really kind of just flipped a switch that, 'I'm really not doing the right thing. I need to get my priorities straight and stop acting like an 18-year-old.'
"I guess I was a little immature at the time. I was a little rough around the edges. I just needed to get my priorities straight. I felt like I was on top of world. I'd just gotten a scholarship to the dream program I'd always wanted to go to, and I was having a blast."
If the phone call from dad in Beamer's office was the motivation Tyler needed to get his college career on track, he has gotten the message. In a season that has turned sour for Tech's defense after giving up more than 500 yards Saturday for the second time this season in a 48-34 loss at North Carolina, Tyler has been one of the brightest spots.
Coming into the weekend, Tyler was tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference lead in tackles with 53. He had 17 tackles in Virginia Tech's season-opening 20-17 win against Georgia Tech. The last time a Virginia Tech defender had more tackles was 2003, when Michael Crawford had 18 against Texas A&M.
"He's talking about the NFL now, which is something we couldn't have dreamed of before he got to Tech," Tim said. "When he first got to Tech, we had to prepare ourselves for the fact he might never set foot on the field."
Leading the conference in tackles was an unlikely spot for Tyler to be in, considering he couldn't get a college program to notice him in high school, and a back injury threatened his career once he got his shot at Tech (3-3 overall, 1-1 ACC).
Despite earning state defensive player of the year honors as a senior at Oakton after putting up 147 tackles and five interceptions, the only schools to offer him scholarships were Virginia Military Institute and Massachusetts, according to Tim.
A combination of Jack's relatively slight stature for a middle linebacker – he's 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds – and a lack of knowledge about how to gain attention in the recruiting process may have hurt Jack's chances. A chronic back injury he'd dealt with since he was about 11 years old also hampered Tyler.
Above all else, he wanted to be a Hokie.
He came to a one-day recruiting camp at Tech in June 2008, but could only stay at the camp for a few hours before having to return to northern Virginia to play in the championship game of the state lacrosse tournament. He was a captain and an all-region defenseman on Oakton's lacrosse team.
When it came down to scholarship time, Tech didn't have anything left for Tyler. He decided to walk-on at Tech with the promise of a scholarship by the end of his first year if things went well. They did, and he was given his scholarship in a meeting in Beamer's office at the end of spring practice in 2010.
"I felt like I was wanted," said Tyler of his relationship with Tech's coaches. "It was just great knowing that they care and that the entire recruiting process wasn't just blowing smoke and a big lie. They actually were telling me the truth."
He had anything but a clear path to a starting job at Tech. In 2009, his first season at Tech, he was in a category all his own – fifth-team linebacker. No other linebackers were listed beyond fourth team on Tech's roster.
Tyler, who played a defense at Oakton similar to Tech's 4-2-5, started to work his way up Tech's depth chart. Yet, his career was nearly sidetracked for good in the spring of 2011 when he was forced to sit out due to the discovery of two broken bones in his back. He wore a back brace for 23 hours a day the entire summer, and returned in the fall a rejuvenated man.
"He's been a different guy," Foster said. "He's always had a pretty good football IQ, but now he's playing at a different speed than what he was initially. We were at the point there for a little while where we were saying, 'Is this the same guy we saw in high school?'"
Tyler also got a little bit of luck to go his way. In 2010, he filled in for injured starting middle linebacker Bruce Taylor in the second half of Tech's win against Florida State in the ACC championship game, recording seven tackles, including three for losses.
A month later, Tyler got his first start against Stanford in the Orange Bowl when Lyndell Gibson missed the game due to an injury. Taylor slid into Gibson's spot and Tyler finished with five tackles after taking over in Taylor's middle linebacker position.
"(Tyler has) a knack for making plays," said Beamer, whose program has had success getting walk-on linebackers from Oakton – Cody Grimm, who is a family friend of the Tyler's and who was an Associated Press third team All-American at outside linebacker in 2009, was also a walk-on from Oakton. "He doesn't waste steps out there. He plays fast. He plays bigger than his size and faster than his speed. He's really given us some good play."
Then, some depth chart movement benefited Tyler. Quillie Odom, who had been ahead of Tyler on the depth chart, left the program in June 2011. Middle linebacker Telvion Clark was kicked off the team this past March, eliminating another obstacle for Tyler.
With starting linebacker Tariq Edwards on the shelf during the preseason and early season due to a shin and knee injury, Taylor was forced to slide over to Edwards' spot, finally opening a more permanent path to a starting job at middle linebacker for Tyler this season.
"That's really all I ever wanted – just a chance – because I felt like I could play at this level," Tyler said. "I feel like most people didn't think I could. Nobody thought I could besides coach Beamer, coach Foster, (Tech defensive backs) coach (Torrian) Gray and my family and friends."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun