When San Jose State coach Ron Caragher hosted his team at his newly renovated house earlier this year, Spartans wirey star running back Tyler Ervin took plenty of notice. Caragher and his wife, Wendy, knocked out the front wall of their 1950s house to give it more of an open feel. They also remodeled the kitchen, where they put in a new center island, cabinets and granite countertops.
As Ervin examined the improvements, he gave feedback to Caragher. "That's a good investment," Caragher recalls Ervin telling him about the kitchen upgrades. "It's good work. I like how you did this."
Ervin has some expertise when it comes to houses. Besides being on pace to graduate with a degree in communication studies this semester, he's also taking night classes to get his real estate license. He's well versed in the industry thanks to his father, Tyrone, who flips homes, according to Caragher.
"Tyler knows what he's talking about," Caragher says. "I've had to learn. This is all new to me, but not to Tyler. In hindsight, I should have had him up a year ago had I known. He could have helped me and helped save some headaches."
This season, the 5' 10", 177-pound Ervin is causing plenty of headaches for opposing defenses. The redshirt senior is the nation's second-leading rusher with 1,159 yards and 12 touchdowns on 193 carries, trailing just LSU running back and Heisman Trophy favorite Leonard Fournette.
But Ervin has done something Fournette hasn't this season: he rushed for 300 yards in a game, a school record he accomplished on 41 carries to go with three touchdowns last month during San Jose State's 49-23 win over Fresno State. That's the most rushing yards by an FBS player in a game this season.
Besides running back, Ervin is a dangerous receiver and kick returner; he's second in the nation behind Stanford's Christian McCaffrey in all-purpose yards (1,756 yards). It's come on 242 touches, the most in the country. Last week, Ervin had 263 rushing yards and a touchdown on 36 carries in San Jose State's 31-21 win over New Mexico. And leading up to the Spartans's loss at Auburn earlier this month, Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp warned his players that Ervin could be an SEC running back.
He still had 160 rushing yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in that defeat. "Everything is special about Tyler on the field," Caragher says. "He's just as special off the field. He's a tremendous ambassador for this program. He's just one of those guys that is a role model for your younger players, making good decisions."
Lightly recruited because of his slight stature and the double-wing offense he played in at Colton (Calif.) High, Ervin switched to cornerback his freshman year at San Jose State in 2011. Midway through the season, he moved back to running back and also returned kickoffs.
Ervin continued in those roles in 2012, but quickly impressed Caragher when he was hired after that regular season. He liked Ervin's quickness, elusiveness and acceleration and made Ervin his starting running back in 2013. But Ervin suffered a season-ending ankle injury in his first game. He used that medical redshirt year to get stronger and played slot receiver in spring practice to further hone his versatility.
It was on full display last season as Ervin finished 13th in the nation in all-purpose yards (148.4 per game). That included a career-high 888 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 158 carries.
"He's got very good vision," Caragher says. "He can see that crease and then he's got tremendous burst. He can accelerate through the hole. That combination is what makes him good."
Since last season, Ervin's physical strength has only further improved as has his conditioning, both of which have helped him stay healthy this season. "He's definitely an outlier when you look at workhorse running backs," Caragher says. "He's only 180 pounds yet he can run the ball between the tackles and has the speed to run around the perimeter, but he's also got some power to him. He's very explosive."
This year, Ervin has also stepped up as a leader and has endorsed hour-long team-building meetings on Thursdays. After San Jose State's disappointing 3-9 record last season, Caragher and his staff analyzed how they could improve and decided to implement the sessions. Topics like brotherhood, courage and decision-making have been discussed. There have also been guest speakers like former Spartans star and Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones.
"He's been an important part of that," Caragher says of Ervin's support of the meetings. "In showing his teammates this is good for our season, but also for us as young men building a foundation for success, not just on the field, but beyond."
Ervin's teammates know they better listen or they risk not getting a coveted haircut appointment with him. The do-everything Ervin is also the team's barber with a client list that includes 30 to 40 of his teammates, according to Caragher. Ervin has been cutting hair since he was a junior in high school and his first client was his nephew, who was 4 at the time.
Longtime San Jose State media relations director Lawrence Fan had planned to let Ervin cut his hair during Mountain West football media days earlier this summer, but it didn't happen because Ervin was concerned the TSA would confiscate his clippers and scissors from his carry on.
Caragher is thinking of letting Ervin cut his hair if the Spartans (4-4) make a bowl game this season. "I would let him do it in a heartbeat," Caragher says. "I think I'm at the bottom of that list. I'll let his teammates take advantage of his talent and skills."
Caragher believes Ervin's future is in the NFL or in home design and building. The two have a running conversation about the next improvements that Caragher intends to make to his home.
"He's really good," Caragher says of Ervin. "He's got an eye for it."
Just like homebuyers and opponents should have an eye on Ervin.
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