The road from undrafted free agent to starting NFL tight end for the New York Giants wasn’t paved with camera flashes and TV interviews for Stony Brook University product Will Tye. A former Seawolf, Tye’s grind in transferring to Stony Brook from Florida State and watching Draft Day come and go in April without hearing his name called could have derailed his journey. But Tye endured and told himself to keep pushing. The hard work paid off during an NFL rookie campaign that saw him lead all first-year tight ends in receptions and receiving yards.
“I felt ready,” Tye said of his first game action against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 4. “I wasn’t too nervous on the outside but on the inside I probably didn’t realize how big a step I was taking.”
Tye, 24, was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster after starter Larry Donnell was sidelined with a neck injury. Like Donnell, Tye rose from obscurity to the top spot. He credited Donnell, fellow tight end Jerome Cunningham and tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride with his progression as a starter.
“[Larry] taught me a lot,” Tye said. “Even off the field, I had a good trust and bond with him. To connect with him about different parts about the position, different releases and blocking, it’s helpful.”
From toeing the lines at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook, to navigating the whistling winds at MetLife Stadium, Tye keeps the foils of his past in his mind to humble him. He caught just one pass for the FSU Seminoles.
“Being undrafted, barely any playing time at Florida State, really pushed me,” Tye said. “The long road it took to get there…that’ll always be my motivation.”
Tye’s dream stepped further into reality in Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins. Down 17-10 with less than one minute to go in the second quarter, it was first-and-goal at Miami’s five-yard-line. As the Middletown, CT., native walked to the line of scrimmage, he wasn’t thinking about becoming the first Stony Brook player to catch an NFL touchdown. He was concentrating on just getting open.
Tye was the second read in quarterback Eli Manning’s progression, but a window opened up in the corner of the endzone when defenders converged on wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. at the front of the goal line.
“When I realized how open I was [in the endzone], I thought ‘wow this is going to happen,’” Tye said. “[The ball] hit me right in the hands.”
Tye’s crowning achievement could be felt from South Beach to Roth Pond at Stony Brook.
“Just knowing how much it takes to get to this point, it was great for me and great for the university,” Tye said.
Tye’s soft hands made him a popular target for Manning over the latter course of the season. Though he admits he needs to develop as a blocker, and points to the Giants defensive ends as the toughest to handle in practice.
“He’s progressed,” head coach Tom Coughlin said. “There’s some things that I’d like him to do better. I really do believe he can be an outstanding blocker.”
What happens in the off-season remains to be seen, with changes expected to turn over New York’s roster and possibly, the coaching staff. Once an unheralded prospect, but now a rising professional, Tye’s made it clear he will work hard to stick around.
“Nothing is handed to you, whether you’re a first rounder or undrafted,” Tye said. “You have to work for it.”