Owls’ single digit grows through adversity

Temple University graduate student safety Amir Tyler couldn’t have accomplished a successful collegiate career without those who supported him before becoming an Owl.

Amir Tyler, a graduate student safety, lines up to play defense during an Owl's game against the University of Houston at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov 13. | NOEL CHACKO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Amir Tyler walks through Edberg-Olson Hall, his name is “Hollywood.”

The nickname started with Tyler’s high school football teammates in his hometown, Lakewood, New Jersey, because he was one of few players who was getting recruited by colleges, Tyler said. 

The name stuck around in college, and it reflects graduate student safety Tyler’s stellar impact after six years in Temple University’s football program.

From overcoming numerous injuries to becoming a single digit — Tyler helped lead the Owls to success and through challenges, but his achievements wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the people who supported him before he came to North Broad, he said. 

Heading into this season, the sixth year knew he needed to help lead a young team, especially with new transfers in the program, Tyler said. 

Tyler would hang out with the players off the field and help former redshirt-junior wide receiver Jadan Blue run players-only meetings, where they spoke openly with the team about any problems players were having and what attitude they should have going forward, Tyler added. 

“We look for leadership out of them and we demand it,” said former head coach Rod Carey. “You can’t be a sixth-year player and be here that long and not be a leader, you are just naturally going to get looked at that way.”

But Tyler’s ability to guide his teammates stemmed from a childhood of overcoming adversity. 

At the age of five, sports was a way to escape for Tyler. Playing Pop Warner football as a running back, receiver and quarterback are his first memories of the sport, he said. 

“I lived with my grandma, and my aunt and my uncle always come by to take me to football,” Tyler added. “Just to get me into the game, like having me loving the sport.” 

Tyler didn’t know his dad, and his mom wasn’t stable at the time to take care of Tyler’s siblings, which left him and his five brothers and two sisters to live with his grandmother in a two-bedroom apartment condo in Lakewood, New Jersey. 

Between sleeping on bunk beds and the couch, Tyler and his siblings made it work, but in the sixth grade Tyler’s grandma had a heart attack and passed away. He and his siblings were then placed into the foster care system, he said. 

In Tyler’s first foster home, he moved to the Pine Barrens, New Jersey. All his siblings were together in one home at the time, until Tyler and his older siblings fell into some trouble at school and were forced to split up, he said.

For the next two years, Tyler jumped around between different foster homes, which caused him to fall behind in school. After repeating the seventh grade, he was back in Lakewood and stayed with his Pop Warner football coach Sean Barksdale and his wife Stacy, who later on adopted Tyler. 

Tyler was grateful to his adopted family because they got him involved in different sports, like an AAU basketball league, track, baseball and, of course, football.  

“I got to go to a lot of places I’ve never been before like Vegas, Texas, Florida, California, just from playing AAU basketball,” Tyler said. “And just doing that with that family, like we grew a great bond. I knew they had a great interest in me and my little brother staying there.”

Living with the Barksdales taught Tyler what a family structure looked like. There were rules and stability in the household, which he wasn’t used to, he said. 

“Having a mom and a dad and having rules in the house, having stability in the crib, like I wasn’t used to it,” Tyler added. “I was used to going on the block and looking up to mentors that were selling drugs or making money in the streets.” 

When Tyler was a freshman at Lakewood High School, he met Chapelle Russell, a former Temple linebacker and now Jacksonville Jaguar, who also experienced a similar family situation as Tyler. 

“He and his older brother stayed with my head coach,” Tyler said. “We kind of grew that bond of not having our family there.”

The two spent most of their days together working with head coach L.J. Clark, who Tyler considered a father figure, on their backpedaling, defensive stance and 40-yard dash, despite the limited resources they had at the high school, he added.

“That was like my older brother,” Tyler said. “Though we’re not blood, we’re like blood that’s as close as we could get. Seeing everything he went through and how he handled adversity and still made it, made me believe that it could happen for me.” 

When Russell committed to Temple, Tyler spent the majority of his senior year visiting him at the dorm and meeting the other players on the team. 

After Temple gave Tyler an offer, his commitment wasn’t a question. 

While at Temple, watching former linebacker Shaun Bradley, now Philadelphia Eagle, and Russell work hard every day made Tyler want to achieve more than just showing up to practice, he said.   

And the extra work paid off in the 2020 season, when he was voted a single digit, an achievement he’s wanted since committing to Temple, Tyler added.

“He always was a guy that drew respect from his teammates,” said safeties coach Tyler Yelk. “Even though he wasn’t a starter at that point, guys respected how he went about things and he’s a tough kid on and off the field.”

As for the next steps in Tyler’s career, he hopes to make his way to the NFL, but if not, he sees the potential of being a coach or graduate assistant at Temple in the future, he said.  

“I want to get picked up by a team,” Tyler said. “Just to allow me to show them that I can play and I’m actually worth spending money on, worth taking a chance on.” 

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