A fundraiser for family of former Navy football star and Marine officer

By age 12, Tyler Tidwell was certain of his future. He was bound for one of three places: Annapolis, Colorado Springs or West Point. He chose the former, fulfilling destiny as much as living a dream. A football standout, he graduated from the Naval Academy into the Marine Corps and started a family with wife Cassi. On Dec. 10, Tyler, a father of three young children, died from ALS.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help Tyler’s wife Cassi and family meet financial and educational needs. Click here to visit the page and donate.

I also strongly recommend that you read the beautifully-written piece by Jon Gold for The Athletic in December 2020, profiling Tyler and poignantly detailing a battle he and his family waged with grit and grace.

Following is a much older story by a far less accomplished scribe who had the honor of writing Tyler’s ‘senior feature’ for navysports.com from Aug. 23, 2006.

By Bob Socci

They were words from a child’s lips to his parent’s ears.

Spoken from son to father, they explained the remarkably logical reasoning of a precocious 12-year old.

While most kids his age were years away from their first thoughts about a college of choice, young Tyler was certain of a service academy future.

Bobby Tidwell figured it was part of a phase – this fascination with the military – and assured his wife, Linda, of such.

Until the moment he was taken aback by a startling realization – what was thought a passing fancy was instead a young boy’s destiny.

“I guess I was stunned,” explained Bobby, recently recalling that day outside the family home in the countryside near Oklahoma City. “We were talking in the back pasture and Tyler said, ‘You know Dad, if I go to a military academy all kinds of doors will open up to me after graduation.’ I stepped back and said, ‘Whoa.’

“I never encouraged him to go into the military, nor did his mother.”

The Tidwells didn’t necessarily point their second son toward a higher calling. They seemingly led him there through their lives in service to others.

Sure, Tyler was motivated enough on his own to search the internet for information about the academies, leading him to understand the importance of extracurricular activities in the admission process.

And true, it was Tyler who took what he learned to heart, acting on every bit of it. He would become a four-time class president and valedictorian at Deer Creek High School, while playing football well enough to earn an opportunity to be a Navy linebacker.

But it’s also obvious why Tyler’s here today, just months from fulfilling a dream by graduating into the Marine Corps.

He is Bobby and Linda’s son.

They met as young officers on the Oklahoma City police force, Bobby having returned from a tour in Vietnam and Linda having left home in South Dakota for an education at Oklahoma Christian University.

A fellow officer had asked Bobby to set him up with Linda. Instead, he asked for himself. They married and had two boys, Justin and Tyler.

While his wife, Bobby says, “instilled kindness and softness” in their children, he exemplified toughness.

“I grew up with men in my family who were in the military,” Tyler said, noting the duty of both grandfathers in World War II. “My dad has been the biggest influence on me. He was also a police officer, and growing up he was the toughest guy I knew. Nothing ever seemed to defeat him or wear him out.

“After what (he) did in the (Marine) Corps, everything seemed easy. There was a mystical aura around the Marine Corps. (To me) he kind of felt invincible. I wanted to be like him, to have a ‘nothing could beat me, nothing could get me down’ attitude. I wanted to be the kind of guy who, no matter what comes my way, can stay on top of it.”

The military service the son speaks so proudly of – including search-and-destroy missions in the far northern section of South Vietnam – the father downplays as “doing what many others were asked to do.”

But whatever is said or left unsaid about a war in a far-off place long ago, Tyler has first-hand knowledge of Bobby’s next line of duty.

“I would go to work with my dad,” says Tyler, now 21. “When I was in the fifth and sixth grade, he was running a narcotics team. There were 12 other cops under him who were undercover. I spent some time with them. They were interesting characters.”

It was a real-life look at what most experience only in the fictional world of cop shows and movies. Despite its life-or-death seriousness, Tyler took away many lighter moments.

“When I was playing Little League baseball, (my father) would often drive different repossessed cars (being used on undercover operations) to my games,” he says with a few laughs. “Half the parents must have thought my dad was a criminal.”

Every day was an episode of Law & Order.

“Cops were always in and out of our house,” said Bobby, who, like Linda, has since retired as a Lieutenant. “I ran specialized units and (Tyler) grew up around those guys.”

They were officers forming SWAT teams and bomb squads, working in plain clothes and on street crimes units.

“It’s a very tight group,” said Bobby. “Tyler was used to that fraternity. A lot of us were hunters. He saw that brotherhood that existed in specialized units.”

Their bonds were never more evident, or imperative, than in the aftermath of one of our nation’s darkest moments: at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed, killing 168.

“I just transferred back into patrol,” the elder Tidwell remembered, his voice somber. “I got there that afternoon and was the Lieutenant supervising the on-site morgue.

“Officers would get off shifts and volunteer four or five hours every day to do what needed to be done. It was very, very hard. You’d come home and just want to hug your kids.”

As one would expect, the event affected how the Tidwells raised their boys.

“We’ve always stressed to Tyler to remain thankful and humble and don’t hesitate at night to say (his) prayers,” Bobby said, before shifting the mood. “He’s brought us a lot of enjoyment.”

Much of it takes place on Saturdays, either sitting in the stands or entertaining family and friends around the big screen in the family living room back in Edmond, Okla.

Whatever their vantage point, often it’s easy to spot their beloved number 45, considering how much time he spends disrupting opposing offenses.

As a junior last season, Tidwell ranked 14th nationally in tackles for loss, recorded 10 sacks and forced three fumbles. He was named Defensive MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl, making a career-high 11 tackles in Navy’s 51-30 rout of Colorado State.

Following a limited role his first two seasons, Tidwell seized his first starting opportunity defending both run and pass, while shifting from outside linebacker to undersized defensive end.

“We do a lot of things with him,” explains defensive coordinator Buddy Green. “The outside backer is critical for us. He has to take care of pass zone and run.

“When we go to our nickel package (of five defensive backs) we don’t want to take him or (fellow linebacker) David Mahoney off the field. (Tyler) was as effective with his hand down as he was in a stand-up position.”

Tidwell explains what he does with plenty of self deprecation.

“One play you drop into pass coverage and the next play you’re in a three-point stance,” he says, describing what it’s like giving away, in some cases, a hundred pounds to gargantuan offensive linemen. “Lately I’ve been playing defensive end about 75 percent of the time, which at 225 pounds isn’t a blast I definitely try to use my speed. Power isn’t going to do much.

“I remember games last year when the first time I lined up in a four-man front, the offensive tackle looked at me and laughed. He probably thought to himself, ‘Wow, you looked small on film, but…’ I can’t really blame him. If I was him and saw me on the defensive side of the ball, I’d laugh too.”

Of course, for the big guy wearing the smirk, it can be a now-you-see-Tidwell, now-you-don’t kind of embarrassment thanks to effort and experience.

“The first thing that jumps out is that (Tyler) plays 100 miles per hour,” says Green. “From snap to whistle he’s always going full speed to make up for a lack of size.

“He understands the game more. His recognition of formations and certain plays have helped him.”

Tidwell credits assistant coach Keith Jones and Mahoney, in particular, for helping him to play fast yet slow the game down.

“I felt ten times more comfortable with my position, learning to read at game pace and be more confident,” said Tidwell. “At the beginning of last year I was unsure of myself. As we started playing games, I calmed down.”

“We’d like to model everybody like David and Tyler,” Green says. “Tid has fed off David, who started as a freshman. They feed off each other, to be the guy who makes the most plays and forces the most (quarterback) hurries.”

They also measure themselves against the inside backers who stand between them, including defensive captain Rob Caldwell.

“We try to keep a competition between the outside linebackers and inside linebackers, to see who can make more plays,” says Tidwell. “It’s a friendly competition, giving each other a hard time.”

Mostly, though, the senior linebackers are giving the other team a hard time. Especially arch rivals Army and Air Force.

Together they’ve experienced a kind of academy ecstasy, helping the Midshipmen to three straight Commander-In-Chief’s titles with a 6-0 record against the Black Knights and Falcons.

None understands the magnitude of such achievement more than Tidwell.

At Deer Creek, where he and Justin were teammates on a state champion, Tyler refused to mail recruiting tapes to any Division I programs other than the academies.

Initially, he verbally committed to Air Force until Navy’s energetic assistant Todd Spencer persuaded Tidwell to visit Annapolis. Upon return, he was ready to conquer plebe summer.

More than three years later, including a recent experience at Camp Pendleton shadowing Marine infantry officers with Caldwell and cornerback Matt Garcia-Bragiel, Tidwell is certain of his next calling.

Just like in 6th or 7th grade.

“Those young officers were incredible,” he says. “It just seemed like the type of environment I want to be in. They’re very motivated, very excited about their jobs.”

As for much later in life, Green has an idea.

“I know he has mental toughness, physical toughness and a lot of moral toughness,” the veteran coach says of Tidwell, an International Relations major. “He could be one of the great leaders we’ll see in the next 10 years. This guy lives and leads by example.

“Someday he could be president of the United States. He believes in what he says. He gets respect because of who he is.”

Author: Bob Socci

Play-by-play broadcaster for the New England Patriots and 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

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