TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Tryon hasn’t had to look far for inspiration in his 22 years on this earth.
As the first-round pick's NFL career takes off this fall as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his sister Julia, who is 16 months older, is set to begin her first semester of medical school at the University of Washington. Joe will foot the tuition bill with his first NFL paycheck.
Full-time tuition at the University of Washington School of Medicine -- which was one of 10 schools she got into -- costs $37,887 annually for in-state residents. And that doesn’t include the cost of room, board and books, which will cost between $250,000 to $300,000 for four years.
“I was pretty floored,” Julia said. “Medical school is one of the most expensive professional schools out there. For him to offer that -- it like means the world to me, because he knows how hard I’ve been working for this goal. It just shows his support for me."
Joe credits her for setting the bar high and inspiring him to seek his own greatness.
“Growing up, we just always competed, always just trying to be the best at what we do,” said Joe, who was a standout outside linebacker for the Huskies. “It’s motivation, because she’s doing big things and I’m doing big things, too.
“I kind of like see it as a race to success, but you know, we’re cheering each other on. It’s never a competition, but it really is a competition between me and her. I’m glad I have my sister in my life.”
By the NFL rookie wage scale -- a predetermined amount for each rookie based on the slot at which he is drafted -- Tryon will make $2.031 million in 2021, and $11.171 million through the first four years of his rookie deal, with the option of a fifth year. He’ll pay for not only Julia’s tuition, but also any debt incurred by his mother, Andrea, who raised both her children as a single mother.
“It was not shocking because he’s such a laid-back, humble kid,” Andrea said. “That’s just kind of who he is. If he can help someone out, he will. I’m really looking forward to where his career takes him and to see what he can do to help other people in the future as well."
“It definitely changed our lives,” Julia said of Joe being drafted. “It takes a lot of burden off of us, just to be able to move forward and look forward to the future.”
‘Being competitive is just in our blood’
Joe’s father hasn’t been in the picture since Joe was 1 year old, meaning Andrea worked double duty as provider and caretaker.
When she wasn’t working as an executive assistant and later in the mortgage industry, she was hauling him off to football, baseball and basketball practices from age 8 -- even serving as president of his junior football league for three years. Julia’s activities included orchestra (since fifth grade), volleyball, basketball and drill team.
“[Andrea's] work ethic -- a single mom, she didn’t have no room for error,” Joe said. “She just got up every day and just got to work. I believe that rubbed off on us. It really shows in both of our work ethics, so it’s really props to my mom.”
“She’s an incredible woman,” Julia said of Andrea. “Whenever she was raising us, she was always giving us positive affirmations, and she always made sure that we had access to whatever kind of things that we wanted to do.”
Even if sports weren’t in the budget, Andrea sought recreational leagues that were affordable or free so her children always felt empowered.
“It’s just what you do,” Andrea said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. You just go from one job to the next, and at the end of the night, you crash and start over the next day.”
Joe took that same approach to the football field, while Julia devoted hours to her advanced classes.
“I was always trying to work out as much as I [could] -- anything I could to match her work ethic in the classroom,” Joe said of Julia. “Being competitive is just in our blood.”
“He would see her get these awards in the classroom, so then he would try to get the awards on the field and try to be a better teammate as well,” Andrea said. “... They kind of gave that love that they each needed from each other."
Julia said Joe has also inspired her in not allowing a year away from football due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic deter him from reaching his NFL dream. He spent the year training in California, getting stronger and working on his pass-rushing moves. It was the physical skills at his pro day that solidified him as Tampa Bay’s top draft choice.
Julia remembers the wait and uncertainty on draft night before Joe finally got the phone call from the Buccaneers.
“We were like, ‘Oh, it might not happen,’ and we were kinda down, and then no one was looking at Joe at this point, and all a sudden, we heard him say, ‘Hello?’"
“The adrenaline was insane,” Andrea said.
The room went silent as all eyes fell on Joe. And as soon as he said, "Thank you," it erupted.
“I think I was more excited when Joe got that call that he got picked by Tampa Bay than I was when I got the call from Washington when I got into their medical school,” Julia said, laughing. “That probably speaks to how excited we were as a family for him.”
‘He was a huge father figure for me’
One person who wasn’t there for either phone call but had a profound impact on both Tryon siblings’ lives was Andrea’s brother, Erik Tryon, who died in a motocross accident in 2013.
Andrea said he died of blunt force trauma to his chest.
Joe said losing his Uncle Erik was the greatest adversity he has faced in his life. He spent many days at the track with his cousins watching Erik's races.
“He was a huge father [figure] for me, a role model,” said Joe, who was 14 and entering high school at the time or Erik's death. “It was tough, but I bounced back. It made me value family a lot more. It brought my family closer together. I wouldn’t be here without my family.”
Erik’s death also had a profound impact on Julia, who was 15 when it happened.
“That was my main motivation for going into medicine,” said Julia, who got two undergraduate degrees -- biology and Spanish, which she has studied for 10 years, and is leaning toward emergency medicine because of Erik. She also wants to use her degree in Spanish to care for non-English speakers.
“It was like, ‘How, how can an E.R. not save someone’s life?” Andrea said. “I’m not saying they made a mistake, but you just wonder in your mind, like, ‘Wow, what goes on?'”
‘It’s overwhelming how well they’ve both done’
As both Tryon siblings embark on new chapters in their lives, getting them in the same place at the same time will be quite the challenge, but not impossible. Due to COVID-19, half of Julia’s classes will be online.
Joe’s first preseason game is Aug. 14 at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, and Julia starts medical school Aug. 23. While nonstop flights from Seattle to Tampa take nearly six hours, the Bucs’ Week 3 game is at the Los Angeles Rams, which is a short flight of two hours and 45 minutes from Seattle.
“We’re gonna be sporting his Tryon jersey, we’re gonna be screaming as loud as we can,” Julia said.
Until then, while Joe acclimates to Tampa and recovers from a knee scope (coach Bruce Arians is optimistic Joe will be ready for mandatory minicamp in June), they communicate through group chats and daily video calls.
Andrea said Julia is the more serious one, while Joe is the jokester.
“You just sometimes don’t know what’s gonna come out of his mouth, and when he does say things, you’re like, ‘Is that the truth? Are you messing with me?’ He’s always messing with us,” Andrea said. “She’s kind of the voice of reason and has the answer, and if she doesn’t have the answer, she’ll figure it out and research it.”
There are always words of encouragement. And gratitude.
“His gift to me is definitely taking off a giant burden for me that I won’t have to worry about,” Julia said.
No one is prouder of the bond they share or what they’ve achieved than Andrea, although she wishes he didn’t have to move so far from home to live out his dream.
“It’s the perfect place for him. But at the same time it’s like, 'Oh my God, why couldn’t he have stayed home too?” Andrea said.
“I’m beyond proud. It’s overwhelming with how well they’ve both done for themselves and where they are right now. I’m still kind of numb to it all.”