One of the most intriguing NFL draft prospects is Yale’s Tyler Varga. A 5’11’’, 225-pound running back, Varga ranked fourth in the FCS in rushing TDs, and his 1,423 rushing yards were the third most in school history.
Varga, who has a 3.56 GPA in Pre-Med/Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, the son of parents who are award-winning bodybuilders. He shined in the Senior Bowl—he scored two touchdowns and was the captain of the North team—and now he’s preparing to head to Indianapolis for the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Feb. 17.
Varga spoke to Bleacher Report senior writer Lars Anderson last week. Here in his own words, Varga talks about his intriguing journey from Canada to NFL prospect.
With the combine approaching, it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day for me. I’m still in school, and everything seems like a big puzzle that has to fit around my class schedule. I’m working on my senior project; we’re investigating a gene in mice with Type 2 diabetes that when knocked out causes them to lose weight. This could have profound human implications in the future, so this is important work.
I have classes four days a week, and I’m in labs 10 hours a week. I do football field work at 6 a.m. two mornings a week. This is all combine prep, where I’m performing drills like the pro-agility drill and catching passes from my quarterbacks here at Yale. I do track work three evenings a week—I’m working with a sprint coach—and I lift weights four times a week. Being able to time manage effectively is important. This road is by no means easy.
Since Christmas, I’ve been eating pretty much the same thing every day. For breakfast, I’ll have oatmeal, egg whites and a green juice blend. For lunch and dinner, I’ll eat chicken breasts and pasta. And then I’ll have a protein shake when I get up, when I go to bed and before and after each workout. I put the same food in my body every day because it allows my body to become as efficient as possible.
Nutrition is an essential component of athletics that is often overlooked, and it’s something that has the potential to seriously elevate your performance if taken seriously. It’s a huge interest of mine. Last year, I felt that this was an area that could be improved upon within our football program at Yale. With feedback from coach Tony Reno and my teammates, I developed a nutrition plan for the squad that I think has helped us all. There are no secrets to this diet, but I can tell you one thing: Discipline is the key ingredient. If you want extreme outcomes, you need to take extreme measures.
I think one of my biggest goals next week at the combine is to be myself and enjoy the experience. It’s pretty simple: Run fast, jump high and be an athlete. I want to show teams that there is a lot that I can bring to the table as a member of their organization. I’m a versatile player, and I definitely feel like I can contribute on special teams. But most of all, I just want to play the game I love.
I come from a very international background. Although I reside in Canada, I was actually born in Stockholm, Sweden. My mom is from Finland, and my dad grew up in Croatia. They were both bodybuilders. In 1990, my dad was named Mr. Eastern Canada, and my mom was once crowned Miss International. Both are intense competitors, and they have certainly passed along their knowledge to me.
My involvement in sport started very young. I began gymnastics when I was a year old and stuck with it for about 10 years. I took up judo when I was four and kept at that until I was 14 (fun fact: I actually have my blue belt). I started playing soccer, baseball, basketball and football, and I ran track and ski-raced competitively all before high school ever started.
Once I reached high school, sports remained a big part of my life. Football, baseball, basketball and track continued, and one year I even decided to take up swimming. I just couldn’t get enough. My life without athletics would be very difficult to imagine. But of the all the sports I played, my deepest love was for football.
I think my love for the game really stems from my dad. He was a quarterback when he played—one with a really strong arm at that. I’ve seen him throw the ball 75 yards. We started playing catch in our front yard when I was around five with one of those Nerf footballs. I would always tell him to throw it at me as hard as he could, even though it would knock me down. Call me a crazy little kid, but I guess I’ve always liked a challenge. I think I can attribute my good hands to those days...in training since I was a toddler.
I started playing flag football in the third grade (and believe me, this was serious stuff). One season, our flag team went undefeated and unscored on. I’m telling you, the Steel Curtain defense had nothing on us! Believe it or not, that childhood season remains one of my proudest memories. Eventually, I transitioned to tackle football in the sixth grade. I immediately loved the physical aspect of the game.
In Canada, we have fall and spring football, and where I’m from, it’s common to play both seasons each year growing up. So if you think about it, some Canadian kids get twice the playing experience of someone who is brought up in the American system. I had 12 seasons of football under my belt by the time I graduated from high school. I think that’s really contributed to my awareness and vision as a runner.
Coming out of high school, I really didn’t understand the American recruiting process, because I didn’t have anyone to look up to who had been through it before. I’m happy with the path that I took, but in reality, it could have been made a lot simpler. The thing to do is to go to college camps to get exposure.
With my experience, I am making an effort to guide young players in my community who are aspiring to play college football. The truth is, Canada has a lot of great players. They just don’t get the exposure that they deserve.
Throughout high school, I enjoyed a lot of success on the field, but just as you’ll find in any good story, a serious plot twist was in store. In my final high school football game, I suffered a compartment syndrome injury in my lower leg that led doctors to tell me I would never play football again.
At the time, this reality check made me grateful that my parents had pushed me to engage myself in the classroom. I had school to fall back on. But despite what doctors had told me, I wasn’t ready for my career to be over. I never had any doubt, and with the support of my family and friends, I rehabbed relentlessly, every day for several months, sometimes even two times a day. I worked on getting strength back in the leg, and by the time track season rolled around, I was back on my feet.
After all that had unfolded during my senior year in high school, I decided to attend the University of Western Ontario. With many eager to see how I would fare in my return to the gridiron, I had an extremely successful rookie campaign, proving to all that I was back better than I had been before.
After a visit to Yale's campus, my college career took an unforeseen turn. The next thing you know, I was a Bulldog. As you can imagine, with any leap of faith comes a certain degree of uncertainty. But looking back on my three years here, it's safe to say that I have loved every minute of my stay. The support Yale gives its students is unrivaled. The amazing coaches, great teammates and unbelievable friends that I’ve made here have all contributed to an experience that ranks nothing short of breathtaking.
With my college experience coming to a close, I’m desperately trying to capture every last moment. I can confidently say that my only regret is that I only got to play three years at Yale instead of four. But in those three, my life has changed for the better.
Yale has helped shape me. And as this memorable chapter of my life comes to a close, I look to the future. With the NFL combine in sight and the biggest tests on the horizon, I have a duty to represent my roots well. Rest assured they will not be forgotten, for they will forever be a part of who I am.