In 2010, Will Tye was living a childhood dream. The Salisbury High School graduate from Middletown, Connecticut headed south on a football scholarship to Florida State, one of the tight end’s favorite schools growing up.
The coaching staff redshirted Tye for his first year, spending the time developing his skills without using up a year of eligibility. While he was not able to play in games, Tye still had time to get ready for his first season on the field. That is when Tye’s dream became a nightmare.
In 2011, the six-foot two-inch tall 260-pound student-athlete played in only four games during his redshirt freshman season, catching one pass for seven yards. The next year, Tye sat behind Nick O’Leary on the depth chart. The starter would eventually become the 2014 John Mackey Award winner as the best tight end in the country.
Tye played in four games again, this time without catching a single ball.
“Things seemed pretty good during spring, during camp. But then the season came and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know. Am I gonna leave? Am I gonna stay? What am I gonna do?’” Tye said about his sophomore year in Tallahassee. “Definitely had some second thoughts.”
Tye was the nation’s 19th-ranked tight end in his recruiting class coming out of high school, according to Scout.com. Yet, he barely saw any action in two years on the Seminoles’ active roster. In 2012, he doubted whether playing tight end was the right position for him.
“I was like ‘man I’m trying to move positions maybe. Maybe that’ll be better,’” Tye said. “Once you try to move positions then you probably think, ‘okay this might be the right thing to do. Let’s try to do something else.’”
But Tye could not work out a position change with the Florida State coaching staff. His choices were to stay and compete with a nationally-recognized star in O’Leary or transfer to a school where he could earn more playing time.
“You’ve got to make a move if you want to be somewhere,” Tye said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
That move was to transfer to Stony Brook. There, Tye caught 79 passes for 1,015 yards and nine touchdowns in his two seasons on Long Island. As a senior, he was selected to the All-Colonial Athletic Association second team.
“I felt like I was going against a young Vernon Davis everyday,” Stony Brook Football alumnus and 2014 first team All-CAA defensive back Davonte Anderson said, comparing Tye to the two-time NFL Pro Bowler. “He was the energy setter on and off the field.”
That performance and a strong Pro Day in which Tye ran the 40-yard dash in unofficial times of 4.47 and 4.50 seconds caught the eyes of multiple NFL teams, earning him workouts with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and the New York Giants. The quickest time in the sprint for a tight end at the NFL Combine was 4.58 seconds.
“The issue, believe it or not, in my mind was his height to some extent,” said Sean Marinan, Tye’s head coach at Xavier High School, where he spent his first three years of high school. “But I thought he had the skills and the speed to do it.”
He would have a chance when the Giants invited Tye, along with 43 others, to a tryout after the NFL Draft. He was one of three that the team signed for its training camp.
“It’s extremely satisfying,” Tye told The Statesman at the time. “It shows also, being from Connecticut, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you are. You can definitely make your dream come true, that’s for sure.”
That was just for getting a chance to enter training camp, where Tye would have to survive rounds of cuts while competing against players who were drafted while he was not and with guys who were NFL veterans. Teams are allowed to start training camp with a maximum of 90 players and must eventually downsize to 53.
Making the team was a longshot, but he had still gotten to sign a contract with a professional football team.
On Sept. 1, Tye was waived, seemingly waking him up from his dream. That could have been the end of the journey, but six days later, he got another shot. The Giants signed Tye to the team’s practice squad, where he would work with the team on the field during the week, but have to watch from the sidelines on game day.
Before the Giants played the Bills on Oct. 4, numerous injuries made Larry Donnell the only tight end available for the game. On Oct. 3, Tye was told that he would be activated and made available to play the next day.
Though Tye’s journey has been anything but smooth, the former Seawolf remains optimistic.
“It doesn’t matter how you get there,” Tye said. “As long as you get there.”
In his first game, Tye became the first Stony Brook Football alumnus to ever play in a regular season NFL game. He dropped a pass against the Bills, but still had the support of Seawolves fans.
“It was funny, when he came back for Central Connecticut he was still on the practice squad,” Stony Brook’s Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron said. “But when he came back for Homecoming he was on the active roster and he was like a rockstar here. It’s great, he was soaking it all in.”
More than five weeks later, Tye still has not woken up from his dream.
“That’s something that I really don’t believe still,” Tye said.
The former Seawolf has caught 10 passes for 96 yards in six games. Last week, Tye became the Giants’ starter after Larry Donnell suffered an injury the week before in a game against the New Orleans Saints.
Growing up, the Giants were not his favorite team, but one that he enjoyed watching. The 24-year-old watched quarterback Eli Manning lead his team to two Super Bowl victories, and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. took the league by storm last year as the Associated Press’ NFL Rookie of the Year.
“They always find a way to win somehow,” Tye said. “Just watching him [Eli Manning], he’s definitely somebody to watch while I was growing up.”
Now, those people who Tye watched on the television are his teammates. Just last week, he discussed strategies to attack the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense with Manning in the locker room.
“We’re just talking about the game plan, it’s like wow, this is happening,” Tye said. “I’m about to be the starting tight end this Sunday.”
Even as a starter, Tye has no plans of slowing down and accepting his role. All it takes is spending time with his teammates, such as Beckham, to see what success can do.
“I was at Odell’s house, hanging out, whatever,” Tye said. “It’s like man, he really just took it from level 0 to 100 real quick and it’s just like in that matter of time that could be me.”
Three years ago, Tye was the backup college tight end who looked as if he may not even play the position again. Donnell spoke to Tye before last week’s game and reminded him of one thing.
“Hey, it’s your time, this is what you wanted,” Tye remembered Donnell saying. “I said, ‘yeah, you’re right. This is exactly what I wanted’.”