LAURINBURG — Fighting Scots senior Tyler Smith has an imposing presence at 6-foot 7-inches tall and 305 pounds — excellent attributes for a Division I offensive lineman.
But outside of his uniform, Tyler is a gentle giant that found a home in the mountains of North Carolina signing his letter of intent on National Signing Day to play college football for Western Carolina.
Western Carolina University is located in Cullowhee, almost five hours near the Tennessee and North Carolina state line. The Catamounts play in the Southern Conference (SoCon), which is made up of teams from North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and Alabama including The Citadel, Wofford College, Mercer University, Virginia Military Institute and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Last season, Western Carolina finished with a 7-5 overall record and 5-3 in the SoCon conference putting them in fourth place under current head coach Mark Speir, who joined the program in 2012.
The distance Tyler said is just far enough away from Laurinburg that he can spread his — oversized — wings and become an adult, but still close enough that his parents and younger sister can come watch him play when the team has a home game.
“The most important thing for my parents was that I go somewhere I can get a good education and that I would enjoy,” he said. “They were looking for that family atmosphere as well and they really liked Western. It’s far enough, but not too far.”
Scotland head coach Richard Bailey thinks the Catamounts, an old-fashioned term for cougar, are getting quite the steal with in Tyler, a player who Bailey feels was woefully under recruited by larger Division I schools.
“Tyler is one that definitely has grown not only as a player, but physically, he’s 6-foot 7-inches now. I remember when he was a snot nosed little freshman growing into his body,” Bailey said. “Tyler made the biggest improvement between his junior and senior year. Despite breaking his wrist, I think Western (Carolina) is a great place for him. He’s going to have a chance to play early, they may red shirt him his freshman year but they are graduating five offensive linemen so that’s going to give him a great chance as a sophomore to start.”
During his high school career as a Scot, Tyler was a two-time all-conference player and was selected to represented North Carolina this season in the Shrine Bowl. Behind Tyler and the rest of the Scots offensive line, the Scots offense racked up 5,532 rushing yards, 990 passing yards and 93 touchdowns.
Tyler plans to major in construction management and hopes pursue a career building hotels and other structures down at the beach after he graduates.
The soft-spoken senior isn’t worried about the demands of being a full-time student and athlete, he just plans to enjoy his next four years.
“I think I’ll be able to adapt really quickly. They say college is the best four years of your life, I don’t think it will be that hard to balance both of them,” he said.
Tyler said when he started playing football as a little kid at Legion Park he didn’t think 12 years later that he would be signing to play Division I ball.
“Everyone dreams of it — playing college football and getting to be on TV,” he said. “But I never really thought that would be be, but once you have it set in your mind that you’re going to do something no one can stop you.”
The senior wanted to thank his parents for their support over the years and knows how proud they are of everything he’s been able to accomplish.
“Everyone’s family should be proud not having to pay for college,” he said. “They are really proud of me and they’ve helped me out a lot, leading me in the right direction and teaching me right from wrong. It’s all come together in the end with this big payoff.”
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or [email protected]