Not many backup college tight ends find success in the NFL. However, countless prospects from small schools are scooped up by teams looking for the next Vincent Jackson, Tony Romo or even Malcolm Butler.
Will Tye had a difficult decision to make after three years of limited playing time at Florida State. He could stick around his dream school, win a national championship and attempt the impossible by trying to pass Nick O’Leary, a tight end known as much for being golfer Jack Nicklaus’ grandson as he is for his football prowess. Or Tye could transfer to a smaller school to land more playing time and fulfill his dream of making it to the NFL.
He chose the latter and wound up at Stony Brook University on the recommendation of Xavier (Conn.) High School teammate Pat D’Amato.
“Just going to a school and knowing you can play and doing it in practice and then not getting a real chance to really show it (was difficult),” Tye told NESN.com. “Then it was like, ‘This is my favorite school, I’m playing hard every day. I want to be out there. I go out there and get my due, and the hard work wasn’t paying off really.’
“Transferring, I had some really good friends there — teammates — it was hard to leave. I knew I could do better, and I wanted to do better. I had a dream to go get, so I was like, ‘I’m definitely going to make this happen, and these two years will be about me.’ ”
Tye missed out on a national championship when Florida State won one during the 2013 season, but the Middletown, Conn., native was able to celebrate it through his former teammates.
“I get asked about that a lot,” Tye said. “I was happy for my teammates on that team. My class, my team class, that was the senior leadership on that team was my class. To this day, I talk to just about all those guys.”
Tye caught only one pass for 7 yards during two seasons with the Seminoles, then hauled in 79 passes for 1,015 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games with the Seawolves. His stats likely would have been even more impressive if opposing teams aware of his pedigree weren’t keying in on the 6-foot-2, 257-pounder.
“I was definitely happy (with my production), but eventually — third game my first year, the second game even more — I was double-teamed all the time, didn’t get the ball much,” Tye said. “It was hard.”
Tye’s college highlights show him careening through and past fellow FCS players. His speed, size and leaping ability make him difficult to stop, especially in the red zone.
Tye, a senior captain, also probably was the biggest punt returner in college football over the past two seasons. He took on the role because of his steady hands, and he brought back 30 punts for 166 yards.
That Tye was even considered at punt returner shows he has the athleticism needed for a jump to the pros. He ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, with a 33-inch vertical leap; 9-foot, 8-inch broad jump; 6.96-second three-cone; 4.33 short shuttle and 11.86-second 60-yard shuttle.
Pro day times typically are inflated, but Tye would have ranked first at the NFL Scouting Combine, to which he wasn’t invited, among tight ends in the 40, sixth in the vertical, sixth in the broad jump, second in the three-cone, third in the short shuttle and fourth in the 60-yards shuttle.
Whether transferring was the right choice will be decided by the NFL. If Tye is drafted or signed as a priority free agent, then it obviously was the correct decision, and it certainly seems like he’s garnering interest from the league.
At 6-foot-2, 257 pounds, Tye is slightly undersized, but that hasn’t stopped teams from paying attention. The San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos have met with Tye, and he could have a few more visits or workouts before the 2015 NFL draft starts April 30.
It certainly helps that Tye was impressive in his only game against an FBS opponent during his senior season. He caught four passes for 76 yards and a touchdowns against UConn. The Connecticut native had some extra motivation to run through the Huskies.
“That was definitely a big game,” Tye said. “Just because it’s UConn, but also the FBS aspect of it and a lot of fans and family in the crowd. I didn’t get an offer from UConn, which is a big thing in the state and at my high school senior year. It was huge.”
Tye is ranked the No. 28 tight end in the draft by NFLDraftScout.com, but his athleticism could set him apart in a weak class at the position. Tye will be anxiously watching the draft next weekend, waiting to see his name scrawl across the bottom of the screen.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images