Appalachian State’s big guy in the middle isn’t quite as big these days, but he’s still a very visible focal point and key element at the front of his team’s 3-4 defense.
Nose tackle Tyson Fernandez topped 354 pounds earlier this summer but is now down to a svelte 328.
“I got away from sweet tea and Bojangles’,” said Fernandez, who altered his diet and burned calories on exercise machines before the start of preseason camp.
“He’s perfect where he’s at,” said Mark Ivey, the Mountaineers’ defensive-line coach. “For what we need at nose, in a 3-4, he’s a quick guy with a lot of size, and that’s irreplaceable.”
Fernandez’s football story is one of transition. He loved baseball before moving from New York to North Carolina and discovering football. Last season, he made a whirlwind move from offense to defense and became an instant starter.
He was born in Manhattan, grew up on Long Island and tried to play Pee Wee football but was too big for the 9-year-olds division. He stuck with baseball, and after moving to North Carolina, and he swatted eight home runs as a hefty corner infielder for the junior-varsity team at Fuquay-Varina High.
He was approached by Ryan Habich, then Fuquay-Varina’s football coach – who now too is in Boone as Watauga High’s head coach – about playing football.
“He told me I was a football player,” Fernandez said. “He told my baseball coach that if I didn’t play football, I wasn’t allowed to play baseball. It turned out to be a great thing.”
So did the switch from offense to defense. Fernandez moved from guard to nose tackle late last October.
“We had a couple of injuries that week, so we decided to try him over there and see what would happen,” Ivey said. “He was a big guy, an athletic guy, and he turned out to be pretty quick. And he was definitely hard to move.”
Fernandez embraced the change.
“I was just ecstatic to be able to make a difference on the team,” said Fernandez, a 6-foot-2 sophomore. “I was a third-string left guard on offense, and I jumped at the prospect of playing time.”
He didn’t have to wait for it. He was told on Friday night before the Nov. 2 game against Chattanooga that he would start at nose tackle, just five days after he had switched to the position.
“I had played defense in high school,” Fernandez said. “It was just like riding a bike. It came back to me.”
He performed well, has progressed since and is the No. 1 nose tackle after dropping a few pounds.
“He was in the 350 range, and we were a little worried about his mobility as far as pass rush and those type of things,” Ivey said. “Now he’s down to about 330, and it’s made a heck of a difference. You still can’t move him, but he can move a heck of a lot quicker.”