Better than fiction

Published 8:40 pm Friday, November 27, 2009

Matt Tuttle admits his story on Virginia Tech’s football team is similar to “Rudy” of Notre Dame lore.

To be fair to Tuttle though, as he enters his last time being a part of the Virginia Tech vs. Virginia rivalry today in Charlottesville, he’s done a lot more for the Hokies than Rudy, real or fictional, did for the Irish.

Tuttle was a four-sport standout, football, baseball, basketball and track, at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, graduating in 2004. On the gridiron for the Saints, he was an all-state center and punter.

Tuttle started this season as the back-up long snapper for the Hokies. Early in the season, in Virginia Tech’s win over visiting Nebraska, Tuttle moved into the first-string role after an injury to the starter.

Following the 16-15 win over the Cornhuskers, Tuttle earned a game ball, as decided by the team captains after each game, for going 5-for-5 with good punt snaps.

Tuttle won’t admit it himself, but those who know about his time as a Hokie know the game ball symbolized more than that one game.

Through the 2006 season and into spring practice of 2007, Tuttle was practicing with the team as a walk-on trying to earn a spot on the team as a long snapper, but he was unofficial even by walk-on standards.

He wasn’t on Virginia Tech’s 120-man roster through spring practice and the summer leading up to the 2007 season. A couple weeks into the season, he was officially added to the team as a redshirt sophomore. The idea of being any more than an additional body for the practice squad was still remote.

“Back in spring practice of my sophomore year, all I wanted was to make the practice squad,” said Tuttle.

“I had seen the movie “Rudy” and all that, but it seemed to take forever. My mom and dad kept telling me, ‘hang in there and good things will happen,” said Tuttle.

Only a few weeks after being added to the Hokie roster, Tuttle made a huge leap for any walk-on player at the major Division I level.

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer decided to redshirt a true freshman who was his second-string long snapper. Beamer was impressed enough with Tuttle to call him up into the back-up spot.

Tuttle’s first time dressing as a Hokie came at Clemson in early October 2007.

At the time, a blog entry on hokiesports.com said, “(Tuttle’s) gone from obscurity to now dressing for a crucial ACC contest…Don’t bother looking for him in the media guide – he’s not there…he just got his bio put up on the hokiesports.com roster yesterday, but never had a headshot taken…through hard work, he’s earned the trust of Beamer…come Saturday night, he’ll be living the dream of dressing out as a Virginia Tech Hokie.”

Tuttle was a part of the game day team and dressed for the last nine Hokie games in 2007. Through the 2008 season, Tuttle served as the back-up long snapper, but saw no playing time. He was elected Virginia Tech’s 2008 Homecoming King however and was crowned during halftime of a Hokie win over Western Kentucky.

“I got to dress for the first time, and I wanted that so bad, but then I got it and you want to go to the next level. I wanted to get on the field and play. I knew it would all be hard, but not this hard,” said Tuttle.

The offseason for a Virginia Tech football player consists of two weeks right after the bowl game. The only day school is in session that is a complete off-day for the football team is the first day, the first Monday, after Christmas break ends.

“It’s been three-and-a-half years really with no break,” said Tuttle.

“It’s non-stop work. It’s the one part I won’t miss when this is over, but, then again, I will sort of miss it,” said Tuttle.

Early this fall, Tuttle talked with Beamer and asked if he could get a play or two against Marshall, Virginia Tech’s second game of the season, but it didn’t work out.

Next week, against nationally-ranked Nebraska, the starting long snapper sprained his ankle in the first quarter.

“Coach said, ‘Warm up. You’re going in.’ and I thought, ‘oh boy,” said Tuttle.

Tuttle answered the call and did his job in a game where every play mattered.

“It was just cool. I never thought I’d play, let alone get a game ball,” said Tuttle.

By earning a game ball, as Hokie tradition goes, at Virginia Tech’s next game, Tuttle carried the Virginia state flag onto the Lane Stadium field before the game. That game was Virginia Tech’s 31-7 rout over Miami.

By playing well under pressure, Tuttle’s earned more playing time throughout his senior season, including in the Miami game.

Even as a reserve on the special teams, because of Beamer’s well-known attention to detail on special teams, Tuttle felt ready before being pressed into action. Beamer works hands-on with every part of special teams practice every day said Tuttle.

“When you get into a game, you’re already battle-tested,” said Tuttle.

“It wears on you some, but in the long-run, it’s worth it,” said Tuttle. “It might seem like little things, but if you can perfect your play on special teams, it’s a good way to get ahead of an opponent.”

Tuttle’s proud to be a part of ACC Championship and Orange Bowl-winning Virginia Tech teams, but he’s looking forward to today’s game against Virginia in particular since it’s possible he’ll play and “earn this one.”

“They’re (Virginia) going to play their best game and we have to play our best game,” said Tuttle. Virginia can’t qualify for a bowl game and the Hokies enter today with an 8-3 record, but unable to make next week’s ACC Championship game.

Tuttle’s worked out with NSA sophomore defensive back/kicker Bobby Lamm during the summer and he’s fully up-to-date about NSA’s state championship win a week ago.

“It’s awesome. It’s something I never did and I know it’s a big thing for those guys,” said Tuttle.

“I never thought I’d be here. I’d see Virginia Tech games on TV while I was NSA and I never thought I had a chance. I guess my advice is never count yourself out. If you have the drive to go to the next level, don’t just settle, at least go try. You never know what will happen,” said Tuttle.