RJ Tyler likes big challenges. The rising senior has faced one as a member of the Wagener-Salley High School football team, where he’s been one of the major contributors in turning a perennial loser into a team with legitimate region title aspirations.
He’s signed on for another daunting task. On Monday, Tyler committed to play for the UNC Charlotte 49ers, a football team that will play its first game this season.
“I get to come in fresh and be a building block,” said Tyler, who will play tight end for the 49ers, selecting them over other colleges making offers including Appalachian State, South Carolina State, Wofford and Western Carolina. “I get to do something special and start a foundation.”
Tyler’s already done that with the War Eagles as a dual-threat tight end and a stalwart on the defensive line. After back-to-back 2-8 campaigns his first two years on the varsity squad, Tyler was a major contributor in last season’s breakthrough 8-3 playoff campaign.
Tyler had 20 receptions for 354 yards and six touchdowns a year ago, but was just as pivotal to the team’s running game, serving as a primary blocker for a squad that rushed 2,896 yards. He was equally important on defense, where he led Wagener-Salley with five sacks and was fourth overall with 66 tackles. Eleven of those stops were for a loss of yards, and Tyler added a forced fumble as well as a fumble recovery to his stats.
His presence helps make the War Eagles one of the top teams in Region 4-A. The 49ers would like to duplicate that success in Conference USA, which they’ll join in 2015 after spending their first two seasons as an independent.
“They’ve got a good plan in place,” said Wagener-Salley head coach Ken Tucker, who emphasized that Tyler could be part of the 49ers first bowl team when they become eligible in 2016. “They’ve laid the groundwork for the program, the facilities are brand new and they’re trying to do things the right way. I’m just excited for him.”
Tyler can be a great building block because of his versatility. His 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame makes his size and strength obvious. But he also possesses good speed and intelligence.
While most programs would like to have a player like Tyler, he said he chose the 49ers because of how they will suit him.
“It’s a good fit. I like the way they’ll use me in their offense,” said Tyler, who said there was more to his decision. “It’s not all about football. I’m going to get a top-notch education.”
Tyler said he plans to pursue a degree in athletic training and got a good look at UNC Charlotte’s program during a visit last Friday. It was only the second college Tyler made an official visit to, but he was so pleased that his mind was made up. He said taking care of that during the summer was a relief.
“I made my decision early so I don’t have to worry. I can just focus on books and football,” said Tyler. “I want to finish out strong and go deep in the playoffs. Everybody wants to have a great season.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.