All Jack Tyler wanted was the same opportunity to play as everybody else.
The Oakton native didn't receive a scholarship offer coming out of high school to play football at Virginia Tech, but he knew of players who had parlayed walk-on opportunities into major roles with the Hokies.
One former player in particular, Cody Grimm, helped him realize how successful he could be in Tech's program.
"I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps," said Tyler, who eventually earned his scholarship and is now starting at inside linebacker for the Hokies.
Tyler and Grimm both played at Oakton High, though they were never teammates. Grimm walked on at Tech in 2005 and worked his way up from special teams player as a freshman to All-American linebacker his senior year. Now he's a starting safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After Tyler's senior season in high school, he had a conversation with Grimm that convinced him to give the Hokies a shot.
"I wanted to feel like I was a part of the team, and he said, 'At Tech, you're a part of the team, and they look at you just like a scholarship kid,' and that definitely excited me to come here," said Tyler, whose only Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offer came from Buffalo. "That made me want to make my mark."
The Hokies have had one of the most successful walk-on programs in college football, churning out future NFL players like defensive end John Engelberger and centers Jake Grove and Will Montgomery.
Tech coach Frank Beamer says the reason they've been able to develop so many good walk-ons is because they treat them the same as scholarship players.
"We really work hard at identifying guys to walk on in the program. We spend as much time evaluating them as we do a scholarship guy," Beamer said. "And then we talk about bringing guys in that might be a step slow right now, or they might not be as big as [other players], but they have a chance to earn a scholarship."
Tyler, a 6-foot, 229-pound sophomore, proved to be a prize addition to the program early in his career. Once buried on the depth chart, Tyler moved into the starting lineup for last year's Orange Bowl because of injuries.
Injuries again provided Tyler an opportunity to play this season. Starting inside linebacker Bruce Taylor suffered a season-ending foot injury Oct. 22, leaving a sizable void in the middle of Tech's defense.
But Tyler has filled Taylor's spot with little to no dropoff.
Tyler has started three of the last four games, including the last two, and made some game-changing plays. He made critical fourth-down tackles in wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia, and he recovered a fumble against the Cavaliers.
In the last four games, Tyler has 29 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
"Obviously, he stepped up for us in a critical time. We lose arguably maybe our best defensive football player and Jack's done a very good job stepping up and replacing Bruce," Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.
Tyler credits Foster's system for putting him in a position to make plays, but Foster knows his system only works because of hard-working playmakers like Tyler.
"He has a good football IQ. He's got great vision. He's an instinctive guy," Foster said. "I think he's an outstanding football player."
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