It wasn’t love at first sight for Ball State junior wide receiver Yo’Heinz Tyler when he first picked up a football as a 6-year-old.
Growing up in New Orleans, Tyler played football at a young age, but he said he had a hard time adjusting to the sport’s physicality.
Years later — in his third season with Ball State — Tyler’s dream is to play in the NFL post-graduation. Ball State currently has three alumni on NFL rosters, and Tyler said he hopes to increase this number soon.
“I have a lot of older teammates from high school, and we all want to [play professionally],” Tyler said. “We’re all going to keep pushing to get to that level where we want to be.”
Tyler has played a critical role in the Cardinals’ success this season. Through Ball State’s first five games, he is second on the team with 391 receiving yards and has five touchdowns to his name.
“We’re playing like no one can stop us,” Tyler said. “No one can compete with us. That’s been a highlight toward us and the team — we’ve just been balling.”
While Tyler said he’s expected this success throughout his collegiate career, this season has been a turning point for the junior.
Following the graduation of former wide receiver Riley Miller last spring, the Cardinals had to trust Tyler to step up and build off of Miller’s workload. Ball State wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Alex Bailey knew he could do just that.
“Yo’Heinz would play well off [Miller], and he didn’t skip a beat,” Bailey said. “Now, with him accepting a bigger role on this team, I think he’s handled it extremely well. He knew coming into this season, ‘I have to step up.’”
When Tyler made a recruiting visit to Ball State as a high school senior, Miller was one of the first teammates he met. The two often stayed late after practices to work on their route running, which formed a friendship and a positive working relationship.
“You could kind of tell he had that raw talent,” Miller said. “You could tell he was going to be a special player. It just kind of kept growing, and growing and growing.”
Bailey said Tyler’s discipline, athleticism and willingness to learn immediately caught his attention.
“He didn’t act like a freshman,” Bailey said. “He was always more of a mature type of player. He wanted to do things the right way and wanted to put himself in a position right away.”
Hitting the gridiron as a freshman in Ball State’s 2018 season opener, Tyler’s first two receptions in the cardinal and white were touchdowns. His first score came from a leaping 20-yard grab in the right corner of the end zone from former quarterback Riley Neal. He followed that up with a 63-yard catch-and-run from now-redshirt senior quarterback Drew Plitt.
Tyler said he had a competitive mindset heading into his freshman season, and it ultimately paid off.
“When I got that chance to play and show them what I could do, it helped me a lot,” Tyler said, “just being able to go out there, know what I could do against defenders and play with confidence.”
Watching Tyler’s debut from the sideline, Bailey immediately knew he had someone special.
“I was like, ‘Hey man, we’ve got one,’” Bailey said. “The ball’s in the air, and he’s coming down with it, so that was really the first time everybody got a chance to see him live in action.”
While the Mid-American Conference’s initial postponement of its 2020 football season due to COVID-19 concerns extended the Cardinals’ offseason, it didn’t stop Tyler from staying motivated.
Tyler continued practicing on a regular basis prior to the MAC’s announcement to begin a six-game season in early November. He said not playing consistently made him appreciate the game more than he did his first two seasons.
“We all just worked, worked, worked,” Tyler said. “We never knew when that chance was going to come, and we always stayed prepared [for] whenever that time came. That was something we never experienced and something we never want to have happen again.”
Ball State has one game remaining on its 2020 slate — Dec. 12 vs. Western Michigan. Tyler is confident the Cardinals can defeat the Broncos and advance to the MAC Championship game Dec. 18 in Detroit.
“I love this team, and they’re my brothers,” Tyler said. “I feel like we can all stick together. We all connect as one right now, so if we keep that going, we will definitely go.”