Willie Tyler was in his dorm room in Council Bluffs, Iowa a little after 1 p.m. Thursday when his cell phone rang. The number of Herb Hand, co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the University of Texas, was displayed on Tyler’s phone.
Hand informed Tyler that an athletic scholarship from Texas was available to him. Was Tyler, a 2017 Racine Lutheran High School graduate, interested?
Tyler gave it some thought over the weekend and, on Monday, he made his decision. Indeed, he wanted to be a Longhorn. So a national letter of intent was emailed to Tyler, who printed it out, signed it and faxed it back.
And one of the most amazing stories involving a Racine County athlete in recent memory became official.
Tyler, who was a full-time starter as a defensive lineman at Lutheran only as a senior and who returned to Racine after a few weeks at Garden City Community College in Kansas in July 2017, is going to be an offensive tackle. And it will be for one of the most illustrious programs in college football history.
“It’s a dream come true, really,” Tyler said. “This is what I’ve worked for since day one. Now that’s coming true, it’s kind of crazy.”
That’s certainly one way of looking at Tyler’s story. He was contacted in January 2018 by Iowa Western Community College about resuming his football career. Furthermore, they convinced Tyler to play offensive tackle, which he had balked at transitioning to during the few weeks he was at Garden City.
The 6-foot-7 Tyler had bulked up from the 270 pounds he played at in high school to 325 by weightlifting during his time back in Racine in 2016-17. And when he became Iowa Western’s starting left tackle beginning with the fifth game last season, he was so impressive that major programs started to take notice.
Two of the colleges he visited this winter were West Virginia last weekend and Texas the weekend of Feb. 15-17. Texas had not officially made Tyler an offer during his visit, but they did last Thursday.
What swayed him to Austin?
“The atmosphere there,” he said. “When I went there, it felt like home, the players welcomed me with open arms and the coaching staff was great, so I just felt I could see myself there for the next three to four years.”
Tyler will have plenty of time to make an impact at a program that is on the rise under third-year coach Tom Herman. He will have a red-shirt year available, plus three years of eligibility.
Herman was hired in November 2016 to restore the luster to Texas’ program, which has won four national championships, the most recent of which came in 2005, two Heisman Trophy winners and 60 All-Americans.
He has done that, guiding the Longhorns to a 10-4 record last season — two of their losses were by a total of four points — and a 28-21 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
How popular is this program? It had an average attendance of 92,712 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and set a program record with a turnout of 103,507 for a game against USC last season.
“The culture’s crazy,” Tyler said. “Like they eat, sleep and breathe football. I just felt I would fit right in there with that. They take football very seriously. Their fan base is out of this world.”
Tyler plans to report to Austin in June and compete for a starting position. Sophomore Samuel Cosmi started at right tackle last season, but no other returnees are listed on Texax’s depth chart other than senior Denzel Okafor, who was a backup.
Could Tyler see himself starting this fall?
“It all depends on how I come in and adjust to the plays and develop how they want me to,” he said. “The tackle they’re bringing back is that left tackle (where Cosmi is switching to this season). They have one person behind him and I’ll be competing against one more person for the right tackle spot.
“I’m hoping to start. That’s what I’m shooting. It’s really not up to me at the end of the day. Whatever the coaches are thinking of doing with me, that’s what I’ll ride with. And I’ll keep on working.
Until he reports in June, Tyler plans to study a Texas playbook he will be sent and follow a weightlifting program his new program gives him.
“I’m ready to get down to Austin and ready to put in work with my new teammates,” he said.