“Honestly my expectations were real low. I remember thinking I’d be very happy if I ever start a game or even touch the field,” Jack said, laughing.
Adding to Jack’s plight was a nagging back injury that had been bothering him since middle school, but had been misdiagnosed for years.
He was initially told that it was a result of having one leg slightly longer than the other, but it was actually more serious.
“All through high school I was playing with a fractured vertebrae and had no idea,” Tyler said. “Then a few years later when we played in the Orange Bowl against Stanford, I did it to the other side of my back.”
That injury set off some light bulbs with team doctors.
“I thought, ‘This is the same pain, so hey, maybe my legs are back to normal,’” Tyler said. “When I went in to get it checked, they told me I had two fractured vertebrae: one since that night and one for eight years. It has felt great ever since.”
After the 2010 season, everything started coming together. Tyler was healthy, had finally earned his scholarship and had a stroke of luck.
During the 2010 ACC Championship Game against Florida State, Taylor went down early, opening the door for Jack.
“I remember being on the sideline, and Bruce got dinged up, and Coach Foster looked me and just said, ‘You ready to go?’ And I just thought, ‘Are you joking? This is crazy. I never even imagined this. I never thought I’d start playing (then),’” Tyler said.
In an almost movie-like sequence, after years of struggles, Tyler got his big break and took full advantage of it.
Tyler recorded one sack and seven tackles (three for a loss) in Taylor’s absence.
In Tech’s 44-33 win, he gained the confidence he lacked in his first two seasons. The dejecting scouts who didn’t want him years ago ate their words.
“It showed me that I can do this — that I can play at this level. That, despite what everyone’s doubted me for, I can actually do it. That game just turned it all upside down for me,” Tyler said.
“I realized I can not only play college football at this level, but I can play well and dominate. That game pretty much turned my whole career around.”
Even today, Jack’s performance in that game sticks out to Bud Foster.
“He’s stepped up for us in some big games. We wouldn’t have won the 2010 ACC Championship without him,” Foster said. “He’s a fun guy to coach. It’s fun to watch him play, and he’s worked at it.”
In the following 2011 season, he saw more and more playing time before finally taking over as the full-time starter at middle linebacker in 2012.
Last season, he earned All-ACC accolades before being selected as a team captain for the 2013 season.
Jack says that it’s all been surreal, but he’s far from content.
“Honestly it was a dream come true,” he said. “I never would have ever imagined being a team captain or being All-ACC. Now my expectations are to be the best linebacker in the country, to be an All-American. Those are just expectations that I set for myself that some may think are ridiculous, but I know I can go achieve them.”
Ridiculous to some people, but certainly not Cody Grimm. His old mentor said that even though Jack didn’t get many reps as a freshman, he’d show flashes of brilliance in the future.
“I knew he had it in him to be All-ACC and more. He showed the coaches and his teammates that he knew what he was doing and had the athletic ability to do it,” Grimm said. “I knew if he kept working the way he was, he was going to be a good player.”
Now in his senior season, Jack Tyler finds himself in a position Grimm was in just years ago: a team leader on defense.