Jack Tyler emerges as Hokies leader

When Jack Tyler walked on at Virginia Tech, he did not expect much of anything.

Why would he? He was on the lowest rung a linebacker could be on, last on the depth chart. He just hoped for a shot one day. Now, four years later, Tyler has emerged as a centerpiece of the Hokies defense -- a tackling machine poised to become one of the unquestioned senior leaders next season.

Pretty incredible for a guy whose only FBS scholarship out of high school was from Buffalo.

"I’ve had a few discussions with Coach [Bud] Foster about taking on that leadership role," Tyler said in a recent interview with ESPN.com. "That was maybe one of our downfalls this year. We didn’t have a lot of senior leadership, didn’t have a lot of seniors. He told me he wanted me to be one of those guys next year.

"Obviously, it’s a dream come true even being put in that sentence, and for Coach Foster to even think of me like that. Throughout my career here, I've just slowly gotten more confidence with the coaches and with other people. I just feel like I’m ready and it’s my time and I’m the perfect person to step into that leadership role."

Given the way Tyler played this year, it should be easy for his teammates to follow his lead.

Tyler has recorded a team-high 112 tackles, including 11 for loss and 2.5 sacks with two pass breakups and 13 quarterback hurries. He ranks third in the ACC in total tackles and fourth in tackles per game, and earned first-team All-ACC honors from the coaches for his play this season.

This also happened to be his first year as a full-time starter, after injuries gave him his opportunity in the lineup. But his monster opening night performance against Georgia Tech -- a career-high 17 tackles and ACC linebacker of the week honors -- cemented his place as a starter, and he has not looked back.

Now that he and his teammates are preparing to close out the 2012 season against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Friday, Tyler has a unique opportunity to set the tone for his teammates for the year to come.

Not bad for a guy who had no guarantees when he arrived.

"When I first got here, I had low expectations because I felt like I had to," he said. "Now my goals are as high as they possibly could be. That’s how my career has gone. What I thought about my freshman year doesn’t matter any more. Whether I was a walk-on doesn’t matter. No one looks at me as an old walk-on anymore."