That's exactly the path that sophomore safety Jeremy Tyler has followed during his brief, but very productive, Mountaineer career. The Georgia native was thrown into the fire early, making his collegiate debut on the road against Oklahoma. He also saw limited action against Georgia State, and then missed the next five games. From there, however, things began cooking. A two-tackle performance against TCU led to more playing time, and culminated in his dream -- a starting slot at free safety in the final game against Iowa State.Despite a desultory loss to the Cyclones, Tyler was anything but. He racked up ten tackles, including 2.5 for losses, broke up a pass and forced a fumble as the team's best defender on the field.
"When I got the call, I was up to the challenge. I knew I could do it, and that I was capable of making plays," Tyler said. "I just wanted everyone else to see that this is a good fit for this team, and that I could hold myself accountable. For them throwing me in the fire, I felt good about the decision, because I was able to experience the Big 12 speed. It made me open my eyes a little more. It helped me get my mind right for this upcoming season."Tyler seemed all set coming into the fall. He had the best performance of the game in his first start at West Virginia, and added to that reputation over the spring with a series of teeth-rattling hits that rivaled those of Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon. But then, a stark reality hit him in the face, in the form of a precocious freshman who, just like Tyler a year ago, appears too good to keep off the field. That player, Dravon Henry, has been earning good reviews from teammates and coaches alike during the fall, and as the new guy on the scene, is getting much more attention than the average freshman, even though he's not permitted to speak to the media under head coach Dana Holgorsen's rules for newcomers. His presence has set up a tight and intense battle for the free safety position. As the incumbent, and one that might have felt he's already paid his dues, Tyler might be forgiven were he to be a bit put off by the challenge. However, he's used his own experience of a year ago, when he bypassed people above him on the depth chart, to find a bit of peace with the current situation. As a competitor, he knows that he has to defend his turf every day.
"It's kind of tough," he admitted, "but at the end of the day, it's football, and you have to compete. Every day is a day to get better. There's no giveaways or handouts. You have to earn the spot. That's where my mind is."
If Tyler can keep that attitude, and continue to fight and improve in his own right, West Virginia could end up with two excellent free safeties in 2014 -- something that might not have been anticipated after last year's starter for most of the season, Karl Joseph, moved down to the bandit position for this campaign. It figures that Tyler, who continued to play hard when some gave up at the end of last year, won't fold his tent just because of a new challenge. Just as he did in climbing his way to the top of the mountain a year ago, it's expected that he will continue to work to hold on to that spot.