Tyler Tettleton quietly enjoying the ride
ATHENS, Ohio - On this particularly glamorous day in the glamorous life of Ohio University quarterback Tyler Tettleton, he's up with the sun. Within an hour, he's wearing an Oklahoma City Thunder t-shirt and shorts and walking to class -- uphill -- alongside dozens of other students.
If that sounds thrilling, come along a few hours later as he's wandering Athens' famous/infamous Court Street in search of lunch. With dozens of options and plenty of variety abound, Tettleton boldly chooses...Subway.
The sandwich maker behind the counter is less than starstruck. Clearly, she's unaware that she's making a sandwich for the quarterback for the first Ohio University football team to crack the Top 25 rankings since 1968. Dining in what becomes a crowded Subway for almost 45 minutes, Tettleton gets recognized only by a teammate stuck eight deep in line. Back on Court Street, he passes through anonymously.
Completely and totally anonymously. This taking-football-seriously and winning-in-bunches stuff is still relatively new here. The Big Man on Campus is supposed to be a big deal, right?
"No -- and that's fine with me," Tettleton says. "Believe me."
He has enough in his daily sandwich wrapper. Even-keeled and unassuming until he hits the football field, the son of former Major League Baseball player Mickey Tettleton has reluctantly become the face of a Bobcats program that's made a steady climb under coach Frank Solich, is 7-0 so far this season and last weekend made the BCS rankings for the first time ever.
"We knew Tyler had good bloodlines," Solich said. "Once we got him here, we found that he was a very serious worker. He takes pride in his craft, and he's made steady improvement. He's a better young man than he is a football player."
The Bobcats have a veteran offensive line, a workhorse running back in Iowa State transfer and Tettleton's longtime friend, Beau Blankenship, and a mobile, collected quarterback who doesn't necessarily look the part at 6-foot nothing and 200 pounds. Tettleton is the brains and often the engine of a sharp, fast-paced Bobcats offense, leading with the kind of poise and quiet confidence that allowed Ohio to rally from 11 down to win at Penn State and has kept things steady through a rash of injuries and a couple of close calls since.
He's not totally bland; he does mix parmesan with chipotle southwest sauce on his Subway chicken sandwich. As for the jazzy, flashy stuff, he will admit only to thinking that a backfield featuring two high school buddies from Norman, Okla., would lead what was long one one the nation's lowest-profile programs to the Top 25 is pretty darn cool.
"Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be possible," he says. "But it's been a blast."
Tettleton has been walking Court Street during the school day when he's encountered fellow students on the sidewalk and in crosswalks wearing his No. 4 jersey, the one that hangs in the window of more than one campus bookstore. Those students had no idea they were seeing Tettleton himself.
The Bobcats have created quite a buzz, though. The home games have been sold out, and there's already talk that Ohio playing in the MAC Championship Game would bring a crowd of 50,000 to Detroit's Ford Field.
Tettleton, the school's all-time leading passer at the midpoint of his junior season, said he's usually only recognized on campus only by "friends of friends" or when a teammate makes it a point to tell the gathered masses the The Big Star is coming through.
"It's the linemen," Blankenship said. "They love to do things to try to embarrass him. We walk into a restaurant and they scream to anyone who will listen that Tyler is there.
"Tyler hates that stuff."
The closest Tettleton comes to bragging is talking proudly about how his mom and stepfather fly in for almost every game from Oklahoma. After a summertime photo shoot that led to his image being displayed on a 50-foot banner outside Peden Stadium and on billboards throughout Southeast Ohio, he asked for some leftover pictures so he could send them to his grandmother.
"I know they have to do that publicity stuff," Tettleton said. "I don't necessarily like it."
Tettleton knew of Solich from growing up in Big 12 country. When he tore his ACL as a junior in high school and Big 12 schools backed off their recruiting of him, Ohio kept calling. In some ways it was an inside job; Tettleton's high school coach, Lance Manning, was a college teammate of Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin.
"Lance told me that when I watched the tape I was going to have a good feeling about the kid," Albin said. "But he said when I actually met Tyler, I'd have a great feeling about him. He wasn't lying. He's different than a lot of kids, and different is good. He's certainly not a kid. He's a polished young man.
"You don't see that confidence outwardly, but it's there. He has the right support system at home, the right demeanor with his teammates and the right kind of leadership qualities to handle being in front of something big. We nailed this one."
Their college experience marks the second time Blankenship has transferred schools to play with Tettleton. They grew up competing against each other "in elementary school track meets and middle school football games," Blankenship said, before Blankenship came to Norman North for high school.
When Norman North, which was formed in 1997, beat neighborhood rival Norman High in football for the first time in 2006, it did so on the strength of a Tettleton touchdown run.
"Legendary stuff back home," Blankenship said. "I don't know that even Tyler would downplay that one."
Tettleton doesn't mind those stories, but he otherwise prefers to not talk about himself. He can go play by play, possession by possession lamenting the miscues that cost his beloved Thunder in the NBA Finals last June. He can name every player on the Ohio defense who's been called into a new or different role through a rash of early-season injuries. When he does have free time, he's most comfortable in his living room playing Call of Duty or Madden Football on XBox.
On this particularly glamorous day, his roommate is playing Madden on one TV while Teen Mom airs on the one above it. It's quite a setup they have, quite a ride Tettleton is on.
Tettleton said he does sometimes wish he'd stuck with baseball longer, "just to see how far I could have gone with it." He lives just down the street from Ohio University's intramural fields, and he'll often hear screams at night from his classmates playing in those really important flag football games on the eastern edge of campus.
"It always sounds like they're having fun down there," Tettleton said. "I think doing something like that would be a lot of fun. But I wouldn't trade how any of this has turned out for anything. I'm having enough fun with our season."