Tyler Wilson wasn’t born to snap footballs for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
But that didn’t stop his father Ken.
“We started him long snapping when he was six or seven years old,” said Wolf Pack assistant coach Ken Wilson. “I think we got him a little Nerf football.”
The football is now made of leather. The uniform is silver and blue. And dad is still coach.
“My mom has pictures of me when I was real little with me snapping a football,” said Tyler, in his freshman season with the Wolf Pack.
Ken, a Wolf Pack assistant since 1986, or about six years before Tyler was born, doesn’t normally recruit walk-on long snappers about 18 years before they are first eligible. But when that walk-on long snapper is your son, well, exceptions are made.
“His mom (Heather, a former Wolf Pack cheerleader and cheerleader coach) and I knew he probably wasn‘t going to big enough, fast enough or strong enough to be a Division I player,” Ken Wilson said. “It’s just not in his genes. But he’s always wanted to be a Wolf Pack football player I think ever since (former Pack linebacker) DeShone Myles took him under his wing when he (Tyler) was 3-years-old.”
So Ken taught Tyler how to hike a football back to a punter or a holder for field goals.
“I told him that’s how I got my start in college,” said Ken, a former linebacker for North Central College in Naperville, Ill. “That’s how I made the traveling squad my first year. I was a long snapper.”
Tyler, who has grown to 5-11, 225 pounds, put away the Nerf ball quickly and started practicing with a real football.
By the time he got into high school he really got into it,” Ken said.
“It’s easy to learn but it just takes a lot of practice and repetition,” Tyler said.
Tyler played on the offensive line, defensive line and tight end for Spanish Springs High. “I played everywhere they needed me,” he said. “My senior year I started at five different positions.”
There was one game his senior year that still sticks in his memory.
“I had two bad snaps against Reed,” Tyler said. “Two punts in a row.”
Tyler won’t likely see the field this year. Former Bishop Manogue High lineman Connor Talbott, who is four inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than Tyler, is penciled in as the Pack’s starting long snapper.
“He (Tyler) still has a long way to go,” Ken said. “But he works hard at it.”
Tyler has worked hard to become a Wolf Pack football player all his life.
“Ken came up to me and said, ‘Coach, he’s not going to be big enough to play but he’s a tough kid, he’ll work hard and he can long snap,’” Pack head coach Chris Ault said. “I just said, ‘Great, get him out here.’”
Tyler made his father laugh before he even stepped onto the field this summer.
“We had to ask all of our guys to sign a NCAA form and to say whether or not anyone connected to this university gave them shelter, transportation, support, gifts, money or anything like that,” Ken Wilson said. “That’s something we have to do every year for the NCAA. All of a sudden one kid in the back of the room shoots up his hand. And it’s Tyler. I guess I’ve been supporting him his whole life.”
The first few days of fall camp earlier this month were a strange time for both father and son.
“I’ve been coming out here almost my whole life,” Tyler said. “Coming out on this field is no big deal for me and I didn’t think it was going to be. I’m used to it. I’ve practiced long snapping here growing up with my dad. I didn’t think it would feel that much different when we started practice.”
He was wrong.
“It really did hit me,” Tyler said. “Surreal would be a good word for it. I really started to get nervous for some reason. After I was out here a while that feeling went away but it was strange to finally be out here, doing what I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life.”
Ken has his hands full coaching the Wolf Pack linebackers. But he’s caught himself taking a peek over at the walk-on freshman long snapper time after time.
“I’m like any other dad,” Ken said. “I’ll take a look over at him now and then to see what he’s doing.”
A Division I football practice isn’t for the feint of heart. There are some big, fast, strong bodies flying around and a freshman walk-on long snapper better pay attention.
“His mom worries about that part of it more than I do,” Ken said. “I know he’s a tough kid. He can handle that part of it. He’s not afraid of that. He’ll be as tough as he needs to be.”
Tyler has spent some time at nose tackle this summer and has made tackles in the Pack’s scrimmages. At 225 pounds he is the lightest and smallest lineman on the field by far but he’s out there sticking his neck among the big boys.
“I love that part of the game,” Tyler said. “I’m not worried about. It’s a huge challenge but, for me, it’s a lot of fun. The hitting and the physical part of the game, I’ve always loved that.”
Like father, like son.