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Joe Tyo: Not Your Ordinary Walk-On

AMHERST, Mass. - Joe Tyo doesn't look like a walk-on.

(Joe Tyo/Thom Kendall Photography)

Standing on the sidelines of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, the UMass freshman fills out his uniform like a scholarship-earning outside linebacker. Tyo had a feared reputation down on Cape Cod, and at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds it's easy to understand why.

He was a dominating force for the Dennis-Yarmouth football team. Tyo played defensive end, defensive tackle and offensive tackle during his career, and helped lead the Dolphins to a Division 2A Super Bowl title as a junior. However, despite having the look and the stats, Tyo had one deficiency that he couldn't hide from college recruiters.

He had only played two years of football.

“I transferred from Sandwich to D-Y, and had never really played football,” Tyo said. “I showed up my junior year and didn't really get much playing time until the fourth game, against Falmouth. We ended up going undefeated that year and winning the Super Bowl.

“Maybe I should have just retired so I could go out undefeated,” he added, with a laugh.

Albany, Sacred Heart and Saint Anslem showed interest, but when UMass came to the table and offered Tyo a preferred walk-on spot, he couldn't resist.

“This was my No. 1 choice, and it was an easy choice,” he said.

Now on campus, Tyo is working with the defensive line and coach Dave Sollazzo. While currently a little undersized, Tyo is projected to be a defensive end after a cycle in UMass' lifting regimen. Sollazzo has been impressed with how quickly the walk-on is progressing.

“The kid has only played two years of high school football, and for him to do some of the things that he's doing already is really outstanding. He's just another great kid that comes out here with a blue-collar work ethic every single day,” he said. “I like him a lot. He's doing a good job, and he's going to be a big boy. He's already standing out, and he's showing a lot as a walk-on coming into camp.”

Tyo is appreciative of all the reps he gets in practice and said the “coaches are showing a lot of trust in me.” While he has had a good start to his college career, Tyo still makes a lot of rookie mistakes but said the coaches are being really patient with him as he learns the ropes.

He added that he knew college ball was going to be different from his time at D-Y.

“I expected it to be a lot faster and a lot tougher. We have coach screaming nonstop. He's always on my back,” he said. “Anything you do right, it's never fully correct, and every time you mess up, you have to improve. If I mess up, they'll stop me and talk to me and teach me what I'm doing.”

Tyo also has the benefit of learning from experienced teammates. UMass' defensive line has five athletes who are juniors or older, and they have taken the new guy under their wing and are teaching him how to play the position.

Brandon Potvin, a redshirt senior defensive end from Holy Name Catholic High School in Worcester, likes what he sees from his fellow Bay Stater.

“He's playing his butt off man. He doesn't have much experience – he's only played two years. The sky is the limit for this kid,” Potvin said. “He's got a great frame and a great body to play the position. With coach Sollazzo's help and with our leadership, hopefully he will grow into his own. Hopefully he'll be a monster.”

Tyo is one of a number of Bay State walk-ons that UMass added during the offseason. The group is part of UMass' “Made in Mass” campaign, in which the team is going out and recruiting the best scholarship and walk-on athletes from Massachusetts.

The kid from Cape Cod is happy to be part of the movement.

“I'm very proud to be Made in Mass,” he said. “They are trying to get a bunch of kids like me out here, and with this coaching staff, guys like me are easily going to make an impact.”

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