It’s rare to come across Tylar Wiltz without a smile on his face these days.
Through three different stops — at three different levels — of college football, it’s been tough to wipe his smile away. However, Wiltz, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound linebacker from southern Louisiana, couldn’t be happier to have found a home in Pittsburgh.
“It has been a blessing to be in Pittsburgh,” Wiltz said Friday. “And actually, it was real crazy. So like you said, the Valley is one of the best conferences (in the FCS), I’d say the best. That’s just me, I played in it for three years, and I’ve been blessed to have excelled at that level, working my butt off, just as I’m doing here. Just having that confidence, saying that I can do it. And I’m appreciative of all the coaches I’ve had before, all my teammates, just knowing that there was more out there, and that I could do it. And of course, coach Narduzzi and the whole coaching staff, the team just welcomed me with open arms on my visit. It just reassured me that, you know, you can, who’s coming in working my butt off every day for the team for myself or my family is what I do.”
In the entire time Wiltz spoke with the media Friday afternoon at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, that smile didn’t leave his face. The opportunity is a blessing, of course, but it’s not as if he sought out an opportunity with Pitt at the next level. That would have been a disservice to Missouri State and the teammates who depended upon him, but Pitt was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. It helped that even at Pitt, it’s not about the individual, it’s about the collective.
“Even here, everyone has aspirations of going to the league,” Wiltz said. “But if you think about it, if you just walk in here every day, like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to the league.’ That’s a me attitude. You can’t win with a me attitude. And as you can see, Pitt’s been advancing. And it shows everybody’s playing for each other. So you can’t just think for yourself. Success comes from thinking as a team.”
The NFL still is the long-term goal for Wiltz though, and after three seasons at Missouri State, he’s a firm believer in the thought that if you perform, the league will find you.
In three seasons at Missouri State, he recorded 212 tackles (114 solo), 21.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three interceptions and helped the Bears reach the FCS playoffs in 2020 and 2021. As a junior in 2021, Wiltz flashed a nose for the ball (team-leading tackles and tackles for loss) and the ability to force turnovers (three interceptions and four forced fumbles).
In 2021, he racked up a team-high 106 tackles (51 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, one pass defense and four forced fumbles and two recoveries. With second team All-Mountain Valley Football Conference and third-team All-American honors, he proved that he could perform with the best of the best. And now he’s excited to prove he belongs with the likes of Clemson, Miami and North Carolina in the ACC.
“You know, you work every day to get better,” Wiltz said. “So if I just trust me, coach Manalac, trust in coach Duzzi and trust in the whole coaching staff and my team, the performances that I had before, they’re only going to get better. That’s why we come that’s why we do what we do. Because if everybody could do it, they would do it. Not everybody can just wake up at six o’clock go get treatment, then come practice at nine and be done at 12. Maybe have an hour or two off, and then go through the whole schedule and be back to do it again. You got to really be blessed really be prayed up. And I’m thankful just to have this opportunity. Every day I wake up with a smile on my face.”
With that same smile still stretched across his lips, he said he wasn’t sure if the media members forming a semi-circle around him could tell, but he was really happy to be at Pitt. It was pretty easy to tell.
And after the initial visit to Pittsburgh in March, it would’ve been hard for any other prospective team to wow him the way Pitt did. Especially with SirVocea Dennis on the roster. Dennis, Pitt’s resident All-ACC linebacker and player-coach, hosted Wiltz on his visit, and from the second he stepped onto facility grounds, he felt the love.
As soon as Wiltz stepped into the linebackers room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Bangally Kamara and Shayne Simon were there, shaking his hand and introducing themselves. Linebackers coach Ryan Manalac had the exact same energy on Wiltz’s visit that he currently has every day during meetings, film sessions and practices. The love extended far outside the linebacker room.
“Coach Narduzzi, as soon as I sat in his office, he had his legs crossed with sandals on,” Wiltz said. “I mean, most coaches that you speak to are not gonna be that relaxed with you. He told me, ‘This is the situation, this is what we want you to do. You come in, you work. We have a lot of talent. We’ll help you get where you want to get, and we’ll have success as a team.'” It was a pitch that could not be beaten.
Since arriving in May, adapting to life in Pittsburgh and Narduzzi’s defensive scheme, he’s carved out a role on the field — earning praise from Narduzzi during the first week of training camp. While he’s been rotating through both the Star and Money linebacker positions, he made it clear that the competition in the room is intense and not soon to be sorted out.
“It’s a lot of competition, everybody’s working their butt off day by day,” Wiltz said. “So I don’t feel like at any time soon it’s just gonna just be like, ‘Okay, you’re gonna be a star, you’re the starter. You’re the Money, you’re the starter.’ You have Shayne (Simon) on one side, and I’ve been rotating at the two with Aydin (Henningham) and then I go to the other side and, it’s been Bangally (Kamara), and we have Sully (DeShields) and me. So there’s a lot of rotation, everything is still up in there. So that’s why we come in every day and work. That’s all we can do.”
Wiltz originally arrived at Pitt with an expectation to play Star, but his versatility — the entire unit’s shared versatility — is clearly a major boon. With Dennis up the middle, Kamara, Simon, DeShields, Henningham and Wiltz provide a deep, athletic group of outside linebackers looking to make an impact. But it always comes back to Dennis in the end.
Excuse my language, he said, but Dennis is one helluva guy. If Wiltz needs anything, the first person that comes to mind is Dennis. If Wiltz needs a ride to the facility, to go to practice or watch film, despite Dennis living across town, he’ll be there. Dennis’s film sessions aren’t exclusive to himself either, he watches everyone’s — everyone in the room — film. And he’s coaching on and off the field. As soon as Wiltz comes off the field, Dennis is in his ear.
“‘Yo, Tylar, come here. First off, jog off. This is what you did wrong, get your mind right, let it go. Next play.’ He’s literally all you can ask for. And it reflects with his play.” But when it comes to Dennis’s play, it could not be more different from the Dennis that you meet off the field.
“When I came on my visit, I watched (Dennis’s interception against Clemson) and when you sit down and talk to him, and you watch his highlights, I mean it’s like, ‘Is this the same guy who’s doing this stuff?’ Because his attitude doesn’t reflect it, but one thing I know is when we get on that field, that, ‘Oh, I’m jolly SirVocea, everybody’s my boy,’ when that switch flips, you better know that. It’s time to play ball.”
It’s not just the teammates and coaches that are new for Wiltz either. The jump from an FCS program to a Power Five program hasn’t been that big of a difference on the field, “because no one plays college football to just be like, ‘Oh, I want to be on the team.’ Nah, everybody wants to be successful.” However, the resources, the food, the amenities are definitely a step above what they once were. And with a ring at the FCS, it’s only natural to want another at the FBS level.
“And my thing is, we had a shared championship in the Valley. … I have a ring in the FCS level. I want to ring in the Power Fivel, ACC,” Wiltz said. And that smile will be there every step of the way.