It hit Tyler Jolley earlier this week that his final season of college football might well be past its halfway point.
But Eastern Washington University’s senior defensive tackle refused to dwell on that unsettling possibility, opting to savor the position he and his EWU teammates are in heading into Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. Big Sky Conference matchup against Sacramento State at Roos Field.
“It was a little scary to think the regular season is already half over,” said Jolley, a 6-foot-3, 285-pounder and former wrestling and football standout at East Valley High School. “But at the same time, being 4-1 in the conference with a chance to make the playoffs again feels great.”
So rather than worry about how many games he might have left, Jolley has dedicated himself to making the most of the moment at hand – much as he has done all season in establishing himself as the big-play man on Eastern’s defensive front.
In the Eagles’ 35-32 win over Central Washington in Seattle on Sept. 11, it was Jolley who got a hand up and batted down a fourth-down pass with just 58 seconds left in the game to short-circuit a promising Wildcats drive and preserve the victory.
The following week, against perennial Big Sky and national power Montana, Jolley teamed with Jerry Ceja to separate UM quarterback Andrew Selle from the football on the final snap of the game and then broke down and cried after watching teammate Renard Williams recover the fumble and ramble 34 yards for a touchdown that capped a 36-27 upset win over the Grizzlies.
And at Northern Colorado last weekend – with the scored tied at 28 and just a little more than 1 minute left in the game – it was Jolley who scooped up a UNC fumble and returned it 17 yards to set up Taiwan Jones’ winning 24-yard touchdown run two plays later in an important 35-28 win over the Bears.
“I’m not sure what it is,” Jolley said, when asked about his involvement in so many key plays. “We’ve added some different stunts that have helped free me up to run around a little bit more, but other than that, it’s just been a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”
Jolley, whose numbers on the year included 20 solo tackles, 15 assists, two sacks, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery, figures most people will remember the late fumble he helped cause in the win over Montana as his biggest play of the season – even though Ceja was officially credited with causing it.
But Jolley’s personal favorite was the pass he batted down against Central Washington.
“They still had a chance at that point, and just to get them off the field for the last time was huge,” he said of the upset-minded Division-II Wildcats. “That was a great feeling, and the one I remember most.”
Jolley is quick to credit the depth the Eagles have developed on their defensive front for much of his big-play success this fall.
“We have two or three guys that can play at every position in our D-line,” he said. “That really makes it easier, because you’re not taking every rep in the game. I can get a rest every now and then, if I need it, and that helps keep you healthy and a lot fresher at the end of games.”
Still, Jolley has one more big play he would like to make before his college career end – a touchdown run with either an intercepted pass or recovered fumble.
“I haven’t scored a touchdown since high school,” he said. “I remember a couple of year ago watching (defensive end) Jason Belford pick off a couple of passes and take them for six. And I want more than anything –especially this year – to so something like that early in a game and really set the tempo, like he did.
“This has already been absolutely the most fun football season I’ve ever had, but that would make it even better.”