Tylar Wiltz is not a stranger to being an underdog. The undersized former Pitt linebacker is at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, one of 31 such players vying for the four or so contracts that the team has to offer.
But he’s faced long odds for most of his football career. Wiltz played one season for the Panthers after transferring from FCS Missouri State in 2022. Before that, he played one season at Independence Community College and one at Division III Southern Arkansas.
At Pitt, he took advantage of his opportunity. Wiltz recorded 50 tackles, fourth most on the team, with 26 solo and 24 assisted. Wiltz also made four tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception in 2022. His best game of the season came in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 against UCLA. Wiltz made two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception in the thrilling 35-34 win in El Paso, Texas.
INTERCEPTION 🔄 @tylarwiltz
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) December 30, 2022
No NFL Teams selected Wiltz in the 2023 NFL Draft at the end of April, but he has the opportunity now at Steelers’ rookie minicamp, where he will again try to prove his worth and earn a contract.
“It’s amazing,” Wiltz said on the opportunity. “Just being here to not really having anything going on through the whole pre-draft process and what not to getting a call from the Pittsburgh Steelers is lovely, especially being that I played for the University of Pittsburgh. It’s amazing getting to be here. I don’t feel like a year was long enough, so hopefully we can continue through the journey.
“There’s really no other feeling because when you’re growing up, that’s what you really work for. These are the times, just this moment, knowing that it can happen, knowing that journey can still go and you can be playing against the best of the best.”
Wiltz mainly played as star outside linebacker at Pitt, along with Bangally Kamara. The star linebackers play more in coverage and provide help over the middle and against receivers for the defensive backs. In the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme, Wiltz will slot in as an inside linebacker with a focus on coverage.
“I feel like my ability to cover, me being able to run, being able to tackle in space, there’s a lot of things you can do [as a star linebacker],” Wiltz said. “As of now, especially being a rookie, working my way on the field will be special to me. So I feel like that helps me to be versatile, especially being one of the smaller [line]backers. So I can play all four phases of teams and that’s what the coaches are preaching inside the facility right now to us. So work my way there and you know eventually, hoping to sign that contract and just keep it going. Work my way on the field like I can, like I’ve been doing.”
Despite leaving Pitt, Wiltz keeps in touch with head coach Pat Narduzzi and linebackers coach Ryan Manalac often. Manalac also helped Wiltz to get the chance to compete for a roster spot with the Steelers, demonstrating the love between coach and player, but also the great relationship between a college and professional sports franchise in the same city.
“We actually speak a lot, at least twice a week I try to talk to them, try to pick their brains,” Wiltz said. “Just to see because they were a big piece in me being able to stay in Pittsburgh I’m pretty sure and giving me the chance to be able to play for the University. So, you know, they’ve been in my bandwagon. They were really excited when they heard news of me staying here and those are two people that I love and I’m going to keep them close to me.”
Wiltz knows that he has to showcase his greatest strengths throughout this weekend to earn that coveted roster spot. He said that he possesses all the tools that an NFL coach would want, has demonstrated that throughout his collegiate career and that he’s ready for any challenge at the professional level.
“I can use my hands, I can learn the defense as fast as possible, I’m coachable,” Wiltz said. “I can listen, take criticism, because these are some great coaches as well. Just coming across the hall you know. Me being able to learn the defense as fast as I did at Pitt, being able to do it here in three days, that’s dramatic. It’s crazy.”
A version of this story first appeared at our partner site, Pittsburgh Sports Now.