- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tyler Tidwell’s childhood experience was far from typical.

While Tidwell grew up on a 10-acre plot in a small community on the outskirts of Edmond, Okla., his parents Bobby and Linda were members of the Oklahoma City police force.

“It is funny because you think about the conversations around the dinner table,” Tidwell said. “My dad would be like, ‘Yeah, we took down this meth lab today, recovered a couple assault rifles and so many grams of whatever and arrested this many guys.’ My mom and him would just talk about this stuff like it was, ‘Oh, the fax machine broke at work today.’ I didn’t really know anything else, but it took me until I was older to appreciate how unique that was.”

Tidwell was always a good athlete and eventually he became a star football player for Deer Creek High School. He was also a class president and valedictorian.

When it came time to make a decision on college and furthering his football career, that adolescent experience helped influence his decision. Tidwell chose the Naval Academy and is now in his second season starting at linebacker for the Midshipmen.

“Police forces are really similar to the military,” Tidwell said. “I think is part of what helped me become interested in the military in the first place. Especially with my dad because he was on SWAT team and the bomb squad and ran a N.A.R.C. team during his career, so I was always around these crazy cops who were adrenaline junkies. It was a lot of fun to get that exposure.

“I remember at little league baseball games, I would get picked up by my dad or somebody on my dad’s N.A.R.C. team, and they did these undercover drug deals and stuff so they all looked like convicts. Other parents would stop me and confirm their identities — even my own dad. He would be driving a different seized car every week. I think they thought my dad was a professional criminal or something.”

Tidwell will cross paths Saturday with another person who knows a lot about his past when the Mids play host to Tulsa. Paul Smith, the Golden Hurricane’s starting quarterback, and Tidwell were close friends as kids.

Smith’s father, Ron, is a high school football coach who took the head job at Deer Creek when Paul and Tyler were in seventh grade. They became fast friends both on and off the field.

“I always thought I had it bad with my dad working in the school district,” Smith said. “I knew anyone could make one phone call and he’d be there in five minutes. Tyler was never one of those guys that there needed to be phone calls made because of him.

“He was a very personable kid. With football and school and similar discipline we just kind of clicked.”

With Smith as the quarterback, Deer Creek won a Class 3A state championship in their sophomore season.

Smith’s dad accepted a job at Class 6A Owasso High School, and Paul went with him, eventually setting the Oklahoma high school state record for career passing yards with 9,574.

The pair remained in contact, often traveling to see each other’s high school games when the schedules permitted. When Tidwell chose Navy, the opportunities to talk became more limited, but they do keep in touch. Tidwell said he spoke to both Paul and his older brother, James, this week through e-mail.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer. I see the same Tidwell on film I knew — he’s just a lot bigger and faster now,” Smith said. “I would catch myself just watching him instead of the defense on the film, and I had to rewind it a few times. He has been making a lot of tackles, so we are probably going to meet at some point [on Saturday]. Hopefully I can get rid of the ball quick, maybe make him miss a couple of times and talk to him after the game.”

Tidwell, listed at 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, has become a big-play guy for the Navy defense since becoming a starter last season. He finished 2005 with 10 sacks, including three while earning defensive MVP honors in the Poinsettia Bowl. He has a sack and a fumble recovery so far this season.

While Tidwell’s primary position is outside linebacker, when the Mids want to shift from 3-4 alignment to a 4-3, Tidwell shifts forward to defensive end. Instead of roaming around in coverage or blitzing, he puts a hand on the ground and tangles with offensive tackles that might outweigh him by 100 pounds or more.

“I was too small to play [defensive end] in high school, and now I am playing it in college,” Tidwell said while shaking his head. “It is a workout. That is the only way to describe it. The one thing I’ve discovered with playing against huge tackles is that if you even think about taking one play off they will crush you. Even on plays you don’t take off they can crush you anyway.

“You have to stay on your toes, fight with your hands, keep your head on a swivel and run around a lot because it is a physical mismatch.”

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