Gayle, Tyler conclude distinguished Virginia Tech careers in Sun Bowl

Tech defensive coordinator says stats don't tell entire story

EL PASO, Texas — James Gayle and Jack Tyler have been indispensable cogs in Virginia Tech's defensive machine, fifth-year seniors preparing for their final college game Tuesday in the Sun Bowl versus UCLA.

And there the similarities cease.

Personally and athletically, the two border on polar opposites.

A graduate of Bethel High, Gayle has long harbored the grand aspirations you'd expect from someone reared in a football family. His father, James, and uncle, Shaun, played at Ohio State, the latter enjoying a distinguished NFL career at safety that included a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Chicago Bears.


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Meanwhile, Tyler arrived in Blacksburg from Northern Virginia with the most modest goal: seeing the field by his senior season.

A pass-rushing specialist at defensive end, Gayle talks as fast and furiously as he plays, whether on the field or on Twitter. He means no harm, it's just how he rolls.

The Hokies' leading tackler two years running at middle linebacker, Tyler is far more reserved, especially on the field. He doesn't shy from the public eye — he's long been a go-to interview for keyboard jockeys — but he's more subtle than Gayle.

Gayle is taller and quicker, more athletic and likely to make the highlight reel. Tyler is a plodder but no less valuable.

Indeed, both have become all-conference staples. Gayle has never made first-team All-ACC, but he's the first Hokie to make one of the teams three seasons running. The league's coaches voted Tyler first team last season, second team this — media named him second team both years.

Naturally, Tyler hopes to parlay his unexpected college success into a professional career, the notion of which was preposterous five years ago.

"Not even a little bit," Tyler said of pondering the NFL coming out of Oakton High. "Honestly, and I've said it a million times, but my expectations were hopefully senior year touch the field. … Looking back, it's kind of crazy."

And few, if any, relish Tuesday's opportunity more, the chance to play a ranked opponent (9-3 UCLA is No. 17 in the polls) with a dynamic quarterback (Brett Hundley).

"That's the most exciting and energetic part of this whole thing," Tyler said. "None of us really wanted to play, no matter what bowl it was, a sub-par team. We wanted to go play the best of the best to kind of measure up to them and see where we're at. Because we feel we're a lot better than where people rank us or put us."

Tech (8-4) is unranked, and deservedly so. But whether they are justified or not, Gayle lives for such slights, using them as motivation. For instance, he was none too pleased that media didn't vote him all-conference this season and eagerly anticipated the coaches' verdict a week later — he made third team.

In fact, Gayle thought he belonged on the field as a true freshman back in 2009.

"To be honest, I knew I was going to make an impact as soon as I was in scout (team) lifting and all that," he told the Roanoke Times' Andy Bitter. "I'm like, 'I don't deserve to be in here. I'm better than all these guys.'

"Not trying to sound cocky or anything, but it was just knowing that I'm going to be a guy that can contribute because of the confidence I have in myself and the ability that I know I have."

At 6-foot-4 and 253 pounds, Gayle's ability should translate to the NFL, where Tech coach Frank Beamer believes he could follow Jason Worild's path. Worilds was an all-conference end for the Hokies who has transitioned to an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers — he led the team in sacks this season with eight.

"He's going to go hard every rep, in a game, in practice," Beamer said of Gayle. "Jason Worilds was great for our offense because he always pass-rushed so hard in practice. You had to be ready to go. James is the same guy. He gets after those offensive tackles, and if they're not ready to go, he's going to be back there in the quarterback's lap. I really appreciate how hard he plays and how much football means to him and how much he puts into it.

"A guy's that's as athletic as he is, plays the game the way he does, I think there's a place for him (in the pros). Jason's getting ready to make probably a lot of money, the way I see it … and you've got the same kind of guy, I think, in James Gayle."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

 

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