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From Navy vet to Bobcat tight end: Tyler Huff’s journey to Texas State

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Texas State senior tight end Tyler Huff (41) answers interview questions from Texas State Athletics TV announcer Brant Freeman during the spring football game, Saturday, April 9, 2022, at Bobcat Stadium.

Tyler Huff thought his football career was over after his last season at Saddleback College in 2019. 

It was a season that wasn’t lost on him though; he’d just played what could’ve been his last season as a college athlete alongside his younger brother on the offensive line. While that season lived up to Huff’s expectations and more, Huff was fully ready to move on from football after he received no legitimate interest from D1 football programs.

After two and a half months, Huff got a call from Texas State Offensive Line Coach Brian Hamilton.

“I thought I was done playing football,” Huff said. “Early signing period was already done, and I didn’t have any offers … then coach called me at the end of February [2020] … I was all over the offer.”

Huff entered 2020 fall camp in the best shape of his life — competing in triathlons and training for ironman contests made Huff’s physicality and work ethic stand out among other players. However, on the third day of fall camp, Huff tore his ACL on a non-contact injury.

“It was rough,” Huff said. “I didn’t think it was possible … I felt kind of unlucky.”

With the injury, Huff began to question his role on the football field. However, the discipline and positivity instilled in him by his family and his time served in the Navy not only helped carry him through the trials of his injury but throughout his life thus far.

Huff was no stranger to the military growing up. His dad served in the Marines after he graduated high school and was a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for 30 years. When Huff was in middle school, his dad put the LAPD on hold and joined the Army National Guard after 9/11. His dad left his family to serve a year-long tour in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, something Huff said was nerve-wracking.

“It was pretty inspiring,” Huff said. “Having a dad be such a good provider and doing the most to serve his country in a time of crisis … that’s where I get the inspiration from.”

Although Huff has a support system from his military family, his decision to join the Navy out of high school can be attributed to a gamer he met playing Xbox Live. The gamer was in the Army and told Huff about his experiences in the military, which inspired Huff to ask his dad about his future career path.

“I had questions about joining. He was the one I went through to get all my questions answered,” Huff said. “He kind of laid it out to me … he was definitely the biggest inspiration.”

Growing up around the beaches of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the Navy seemed to be the clear choice for Huff. Enlisting right out of high school, Huff didn’t get to experience the freedoms of college. Instead, he learned the order-following and disciplines of boot camp.

“When you get into the military and go straight to boot camp, the discipline starts now,” Huff said. “It’s kind of a lot different than high school."

Huff was stationed four miles south of Tokyo on the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS George Washington from 2013 to 2017. Working on an aircraft carrier, Huff said that the diversity of strengths and weaknesses of his fellow crew members makes him feel like he can work with anyone.

“The teamwork aspect of it … that all transfers to football,” Huff said. “I feel like I can work with anyone, just because I’ve had that experience of being on deployment.”

Even throughout his service, Huff never quit thinking about football. He watched his former high school football teammates turn into college football athletes starting as freshmen on their respective teams while on deployment. Huff then realized that his former teammates weren’t much better than he was at football, sparking his decision to play at Saddleback College in 2019 with his brother once he got out of the Navy.

Huff and his brother held down the offensive line at Saddleback College with his brother Zachary being an all-conference center and him playing right tackle. For Tyler, getting a chance to play alongside his kin made for a one-of-a-kind experience on the football field.

Huff’s season at Saddleback caught the eye of Hamilton, who said he’d never seen so many bodies hit the floor on film from an offensive lineman in his life. Additionally, it was Huff’s mental and physical toughness that initially interested Hamilton in recruiting him. 

“That’s a guy who woke up disciplined,” Hamilton said. “Here’s a story of Tyler Huff that I will tell for the rest of my life … he tore his ACL in practice and came back out to practice and handed out water for the rest of practice. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

After his season at Saddleback College, Texas State extended Huff a scholarship offer in 2020. He missed the entire 2020 season due to his ACL tear but made his Texas State football debut in 2021 in the season opener against the Baylor Bears.

On September 11, 2021, Texas State honored the lives lost on 9/11 with commemorative helmets in a game against Florida International University. The helmets were blue and white to honor the 9/11 memorial and featured the names of all the Texans who lost their lives on that day. Huff was chosen to run the flag out onto the field that game, and in an emotional competition for Huff and the Bobcats, Texas State came away with a 23-17 win in overtime.

“It was an honor to be able to wear that [helmet],” Huff said. “It was my first road game [with Texas State] … it was definitely a memorable night.”

Huff’s leadership in the locker room is a culmination of his prior military experience and his age difference from other Bobcat football players. At 27 years old, Huff is the oldest Texas State player on the field. Although Huff is pestered by his teammates that call him “old man” or “old guy,” Huff feeds off the energy the younger players give him and aims to have fun playing football. Huff doesn’t feel as if he’s solidified in a leadership role, but Head Coach Jake Spavital said that he’s a natural leader.

“He’s bought into everything he does, and we do,” Spavital said in a post-practice press conference. “He brings a maturity and a leadership and a side to this game that is much needed.”

Entering the season as a senior, the 2022 season could be Huff’s last as a football player. Huff hasn’t ruled out playing more at the next level, but if no pro football opportunities are presented, Huff will look to reenlist in the military as a Navy officer and pilot.

“I’ve experienced good leaders and bad leaders,” Huff said. “I want to come in as an officer and be that good leader to the enlisted folks … it’s a competitive process to get in and go pilot in the Navy, but I think my package will be competitive enough to get as far to get an offer as a Navy pilot.”

One lesson Huff has learned from his unique background and story is to treat others how he would want to be treated. Huff acknowledged his luck with opportunities but firmly believes that being a good teammate, a good player to coach and a good person will be met with prosperity and success.

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