Tyler Lancaster has been through a lot to get to where he is, and he knows what he has to do
Last updated 10/7/2019 at 2:04pm
For anyone who plays college football, their ultimate dream is to hear their name called at the NFL Draft as one of the more than 250 selections by one of the 32 teams of the National Football League.
That was the dream of Plainfield East graduate Tyler Lancaster — at least for 240 or so picks.
Toward the end of the seventh — and final — round, Lancaster and his agent had agreed to terms with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent.
And with a Packer hat in hand, he informed those close to him of the exciting news.
The only issue was that there were still teams that could select him and ruin the moment.
“It was a very weird feeling because I got very excited about Green Bay and I told everyone that, but there were still 10 picks left. I was hoping nothing did change. So many people want to hear their name (as a draftee), but at that time, I was hoping not to hear it,” Lancaster said. “It was a stressful day. I knew what to expect, but you never know what it’s like until you get there. I was sitting, waiting with friends and family, and by the time the seventh round comes around, I am texting with my agent and we had already narrowed down the teams we were considering based on depth chart, the interest they showed in me and the coaching staff. Green Bay was on the top from the very beginning and it felt right.”
Lancaster did not hear his name, signed, and became a Packer as he had wanted.
“About mid seventh round, the D Line coach (of the Packers) and said they took a defensive lineman out of Cal (James Looney) and that they wouldn’t take another D lineman, but they still really wanted me in free agency,” Lancaster said. “I kept that in mind and I took a call from my agent and he said if I went in free agency there were deals in place and the Packers were on top and I knew that was what I was going to do. So, it was decided with 10 or 12 picks left.”
Lancaster, the 6-foot, 3-inch, 313 pound Romeoville resident, was signed by Green Bay as a defensive lineman, a position he played at Northwestern after converting from offensive line after high school.
“I am a D lineman and I am excited for that, but I will say what I said back then and that’s put me on the field coach — I don’t care where it is,” he said. “I don’t feel any less valued as guys that were drafted and I know I can compete.”
That attitude was what got Lancaster a spot with the Wildcats and ultimately his crack at the NFL.
“His senior season, we moved him from guard to center, where he became one of the best centers in the country and was probably the top center in the Midwest. He had about six offers, but he had a dream school and that was Northwestern, but they had five linemen offered and all five committed and Tyler was kind of the sixth guy,” said former Plainfield East head coach Mike Romelli. “(Northwestern) told us that they did have some scholarships open and if he wanted to come and earn a scholarship at summer camp, they would be happy to have him. That day, he was offered as an athlete because he basically blew up whatever drills they had. Then that summer he made the ‘The Opening’ which is a big deal with Nike and he was able to fly out to Nike headquarters and he was one of the top linemen in the country.
“At Northwestern, they planned on playing him as a D lineman and he had a rough go. His freshman year he redshirted, then his redshirt freshman year he got a concussion and didn’t play too much and he was a little bit defeated. He had a strong support at home and he stayed with it and he really started grasping things heading into his sophomore season and he had three pretty good years and had a good career. If he is given an opportunity in life, in football or in a career, he will put 100 percent into it and live it.”
With that opportunity at Northwestern, he became a beast in the middle of the defensive line and was a three-year starter. He posted 40 tackles (9.5 for loss) with two sacks as a senior. His junior year, he recorded 28 tackles (3.5 for loss) and tallied 33 tackles (5.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles as a sophomore.
His senior year, he was voted by his teammates to wear jersey No.1, an honor for any Wildcat player, as it is given to the player who best represents the character of the program.
“Getting No. 1 was a huge honor and I appreciate it,” Lancaster said. “And that’s all it was — hard work. That’s what I do and that’s what I did.”
He showed off what that hard work had given him.
Lancaster was not invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, but at his pro day, his 36 bench press reps would have placed him fourth among defensive linemen at the combine. He also posted a 4.96 40-yard dash time, which would have tied him with Tennessee’s Kahlil McKenzie and Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne as the fastest 300-plus pound defensive linemen.
“His pro day numbers were off the charts,” Romelli said. “He attacks it and he works his butt off to get better and that is what separates Tyler from other people and he has put himself in this position.
“There will not be too many people that will out physical him, whether it is on the defensive line or the offensive line.”
If Lancaster makes the Packers’ roster, he will join Plainfield North running back Kapri Bibbs in the league. Bibbs ended last season with the Redskins and is looking to secure a spot in the Washington backfield this year.
He would be one of only four players from District 202 schools to see a snap in the NFL, joining Bibbs, Plainfield High School’s Scott Davis (25th overall selection in the 1988 NFL Draft) and former Plainfield Wildcat and current head coach of Bolingbrook High School John Ivlow, who appeared as a running back in two games for the Chicago Bears and won a Super Bowl with the 49ers.
As a Romeoville resident, Lancaster joins current Spartan head coach and former all-stater Oliver Gibson, as well as brothers Cameron and Byron Stingily, who were on NFL rosters.
Cameron Stingily is now on the coaching staff at Maine East High School.
Lancaster is the second professional athlete to come from Plainfield East, following Victor Pineda, who was the first homegrown player in the history of the Chicago Fire soccer team.
“I am proud of that,” Lancaster said of his background. “I am appreciative of what (Plainfield East) offered me. Coach Romelli saw that spark in me and took an interest in me and I just want to make everyone proud. I know not many people know of Plainfield and Romeoville outside of here and I want to put it on the map and I want to see the number of guys that make it go up. My Northwestern teammate JB Butler is a Plainfield guy from JCA and he will be going after this same thing next year.”
While the Packers are a good fit on the field for Lancaster, the 3.5-hour drive is a good fit for his family to watch him — which a big inspiration.
Family gained a new meaning for Lancaster the past year or so.
Lancaster’s dad, Brad, died in January after a battle with cancer.
“It will be really cool to have my friends and family close —my mom and my sister especially. This has been a journey for them too and I can’t wait for them to see me play,” Lancaster said. “After my dad passed away, they have been searching for something to put their hopes in and naturally, it has become this journey to the NFL and I know it wouldn’t make anyone happier than them to see me play out there and I want to grant that to them. I know my dad is looking down, doing back flips and I know he would have wanted to see this, but he had the idea in his head that it probably wouldn’t happen, but he pushed all the way through the bowl game and was on the field with me and I was really happy to do that with him.
“Now, this is a turnaround from the trials and tribulations we went through the past few months and I appreciate the opportunity.”
While Lancaster was brought up in a hard-working, blue-collar family where he was taught to work hard for what he wanted. His dad’s fight gave him even more inspiration.
“It was incredible the hills and valleys I have had at Northwestern, but hard work and determination will get you there. I really never changed anything up — I have always put my head down and work until I pass out.
“My motto has been — ‘Remember the Why.’ Why was I going out at 4 a.m. and running until I puke, why am I lifting until my arms are tearing, why do I play this game in the first place? I would look over at my dad and see how hard he was fighting just to see me play,” Lancaster said. “On senior day, it was 30 degrees out with ice coming down so hard and tearing at our throats and my dad came down on the field with me. I remember my why — it is for my family. They give me the motivation and I fight for them.”