Tyler Palka’s high school career was not short on accomplishments. The former Saline quarterback made an immediate impact in his one season with the Hornets and helped turn Saline into a perennial football power, alongside his dad.
Tyler’s dad, Joe Palka, was the head football coach at Whitmer High School in Ohio where Tyler was named the team’s offensive MVP during his junior season. In December of 2011, Joe took over as Saline’s head football coach and Tyler made the choice to follow his dad.
Upon arriving to Saline, Tyler quickly found success. He was selected to the Ann Arbor Dream Team, was named Washtenaw Player of the Year and led the Hornets to a record of 10-2 among other accomplishments.
However, Tyler said when he looks back on his high school career, it is never the awards or the statistics that he thinks about.
“What I miss truly about high school football, was playing in Saline, every game felt like a big deal,” Tyler said. “I didn't know what to expect in the first year, but when everyone started coming out to the games, pretty early on in the season, I was shocked because I didn't know how the community would react. Everyone was excited and once we started winning it was a lot of fun.”
Tyler said he likes to focus on his team’s accomplishments, something they had a lot of during his time.
“Beating Walled Lake Western in week one was huge,” Tyler said. “As a team we really kind of put ourselves on the map in that game. Beating Pioneer in the playoffs was huge. The ultimate was playing Cass Tech at home in front of what felt like the whole city.”
Nader El-Awar, a former all-state receiver at Saline and current running backs coach for the team, said Tyler really helped to change the culture of Saline football.
“He was the leader and quarterback of the 2012 team and that team really helped put Saline on the map,” El-Awar said. “He set the bar immediately when he helped us upset a really good Walled Lake Western team who had crushed us the year before. After that game, we all just had more confidence and we knew we had something special.”
Tyler comes from a true football family. He is a third generation college football player and his younger brother, Jeb Palka, plays football at Michigan Tech.
“My grandpa played at the University of Cincinnati and then he was a high school coach,” Tyler said. “My dad played at Eastern Michigan and then he coached in the college ranks.”
Tyler said playing for his dad in high school was great, but it didn’t come without its challenges.
“The hardest part was I didn't drive separately to the games,” Tyler said. “Sometimes it would be a good ride home and sometimes there wouldn't be many words spoken.”
Tyler said having a family who knows and understands the game has been a tremendous help to him over the years.
“I can go to my dad, my grandpa or even my brother Jeb who has seen a lot, and they will always push me and help me do better,” Tyler said. “My grandpa and my dad have been there, they've seen it so they can help me with my play or breaking down film or whatever it is. They've seen it all and they can help me develop. Always having that support is huge.”
Following his career at Saline, Tyler decided to take his talents to Saginaw Valley State. At first, Tyler said everything was fairly smooth sailing.
“I went to Saginaw and everything at Saginaw was good, I played in nine games and started the majority of my redshirt freshman year and my sophomore year I played in seven games,” Tyler said.
Following his sophomore season, Tyler said he started to see some changes in the offensive strategy that he didn’t think would bode well for his game.
“The coach's philosophy changed a little bit and they just went in a different direction with the offense,” Tyler said. “They became more of a pro-style team and I’m more of a spread quarterback.”
The changes led Tyler to think there may be better options for him elsewhere. He eventually came in contact with Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.
“What really happened with Gannon was they saw my film and got in contact with me,” Tyler said. “They were always very first class from day one and they were very enthused with the opportunity to bring me in and it was just a lot better fit for me than Saginaw.”
Since Tyler has made the switch to Gannon, he has found success and playing time.
“I played in every game and split time at quarterback,” Tyler said. “Splitting time at quarterback and playing in every game is a big deal and there were multiple games where I was the leading passer and there were multiple games where I was the leading rusher so it's been really great.”
Tyler said next season he is hoping to see his offensive role grow even more.
“Going forward, into my senior season, I'm considered one of the top guys on offense again, but not just at quarterback, I've kind of expanded my role to quarterback, receiver, and even a little bit of running back so the team can take advantage of my speed and my athletic ability,” Tyler said.
Tyler said the thing that has surprised him the most about his college football career thus far has been the level of support there is at both Saginaw and Gannon.
“Where I've been, football has been a much bigger deal than I expected,” Tyler said. “At Saginaw, we would have 10,000 people there at those games and you are under a lot of pressure to perform in both cities. The level of support and tradition at those programs has been the most surprising thing to me about the experience.”
There are many pluses to playing college football, Tyler said, but there is still nothing quite like winning football games.
“You are under a lot of pressure to win at Saginaw and Gannon but when you win it's the best thing ever,” Tyler said. “You are celebrating in the locker room and there is just no better feeling.”