The News got a chance to catch up with tailback Tyler Varga ’15 after a whirlwind week that saw the Kitchener, Ontario native burst onto the radar screen of all 32 NFL teams with a stellar performance at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. After scoring two touchdowns in Saturday’s game, Varga was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, an event where many top NFL prospects will work out in front of scouts.
Q: Ever since you weighed in on Tuesday, a lot of media members and scouts were practically drooling over your physique. One tweet said, “Tyler Varga’s quads could beat you up.” How important was that weigh-in in catching the eyes of the right people and then being able to let your play do the talking?
A: That was the whole plan going in. You’re a small school guy — it’s funny to think of Yale as a small school but in terms of football — coming in and playing all these guys from the SEC and blah-blah-blah. You got to do something to stand out and to get yourself some attention because there’s so many talented players. By going out there on the first day at the weigh-in and showing out like I did and impressing a lot of people with the physique, that really gave them a reason to go back and say, “Maybe we missed this guy. Maybe we should take a second look at his tape.” I think that really got the ball rolling in terms of getting the spotlight. Now I just need to back up all the hype.
Q: Now that you’ve completed a superb week at the Senior Bowl, capped off with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, how can you best summarize the experience?
A: It was a pretty surreal experience, in terms of the sheer passion the people down there have for the game and the excitement they have for the Senior Bowl in Mobile. You walk in the hotel and there’s a row of live radio broadcasts: Fox Sports is next to NBC who’s next to ESPN and you’re walking down the row and they pull you aside and they’re like, “We’re live on the air right now with Tyler Varga!” It was a week full of that stuff, which was kind of crazy. It was fun because we got to work with NFL staffs and I got a little taste of what an NFL system’s like. It was cool to see all the hard work culminate in the game on Saturday and I was able to get in the end zone a couple times. That was kind of cool and I was happy I got to give Yale a little shoutout on TV — I know a couple of the guys were pumped about that.
Q: I think that’s the first time that the Yale fight song was sung on the NFL Network.
A: Yeah, they didn’t do a very good job but hey, at least they tried.
Q: You just touched on the atmosphere slightly, but did you know what to expect in terms of the types of players and the intensity?
A: I actually set a bar in my head that was a little higher than reality. I went in there with an expectation of how intense and how big and strong these guys were going to be, and I purposely overestimated them a bit so when I showed up there, I was mentally ready to go and to compete. Everybody talks a lot about the discrepancy in level of competition between the Ivy League and maybe a bigger conference, but I think I was able to show we can ball in the Ivy League too.
Q: You and Zach Hodges of Harvard were there representing the Ivy League. How do you think the league’s profile is changing in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators?
A: I don’t know how much we were able to change in week, but we definitely earned a certain level of respect. You walk in there and a lot of guys thought I was from [Brigham Young University] — they didn’t think I was from the Ivy League. They’re expecting to knock you on your back and you go out there and actually compete and actually push back, and in some cases, actually push them on their backs. They were a little surprised like “Woah, woah, woah, what’s going on here? Dang, Ivy League kids.”
Q: Then in terms of projecting your talent to the NFL, the prevailing sense going into the week seemed to be that you’d have to play more fullback to have a role. What’s your response to that and do you think you improved your case that you can play tailback on Sundays next year?
A: It was a blessing that I got taken as a fullback there because obviously you can turn on my tape and see that I’m a tailback and then the question becomes, “Is he a tailback when it comes to stiffer competition?” But going in as a fullback and showing that I could block some of the best players in the country showed off my versatility as a fullback and then getting into the game at tailback, well I only got a couple carries, but I definitely made the most of those because I scored on half my carries. I definitely made some guys miss and showed off my halfback skill set. Even [with] a limited number of reps, I was still able to do what I did in the Ivy League but against the best guys in the country.
Q: Your agent, Joe Linta [’83], said that the Tennessee Titans seemed to be the team with the most interest in you. If you’re able to say, how much interaction was there with specific teams?
A: Tons of interaction. I spoke with probably 85, 90 percent of the teams throughout the week at some point or another. Some seemed a little more interested than others, and I definitely think I helped my draft value this week.
Q: What’s the basic plan of attack moving forward?
A: I’m taking a day off just to recover from the long week, and then I’ll get back to training and preparing for [the Combine]. In the meantime, I know a couple of teams were talking about flying me out to their facilities and possibly doing some interviews and stuff like that so that might be something that might happen. I’m not sure when that will be, whether it’s after my Pro Day or not.
Q: What does it feel like to actually know you’ll be going to Indianapolis for the Combine?
A: It feels good to know for sure now. I’m just really excited to represent the Yale family and to represent my country and my Kitchener-Waterloo roots at the NFL combine.
Q: If there was an NFL team on the fence about picking you, how would you sell yourself to them?
A: I’d definitely say that they should pick me for a few reasons on top of my skill set. One, I’m as tough as they come, both physically and mentally. I can play through pain and mentally I’m resilient and I can handle the playbook and learn quickly. Two, I’m versatile. I can play fullback, I can play halfback, I can block well, I can catch well, I can run well and I have good feet for a big back, I can play special teams — I’m not just a one-trick pony. And the third thing is my character. I’m a good leader and you’re never going to have any issues with me off the field and you’re never going to read anything bad about me in the news if I’m on your team. And I think that’s of growing importance in the NFL especially with the Ray Rice incident and Aaron Hernandez-type stuff. That will never be a concern with me.