Quarterback Nick Tiano flicks the switch to turn on the lights at the Baylor School’s athletic training facility. He’s the first one in the building, and likely the first one on campus, as the sun has yet to rise over the Tennessee River that serves as the Chattanooga prep school’s border. While his classmates are sleeping or joining their families for breakfast, Tiano is re-racking his weights. There is work to be done. And he knows that as long as he’s playing football, that work never truly ends.
Time with Mississippi State
Tiano’s football journey began in third grade after he joined his local rec league. With a weight limit at each position (and weighing just three pounds heavier than the QB limit), he started as a tight end.
Since that first season, Tiano has only played quarterback. At Baylor School, Tiano excelled at the position, earning a three-star ranking from Rivals and helping the Red Raiders reach the Division II-AA state semifinals his senior year in 2014. Tiano ultimately signed with Mississippi State to play for Coach Dan Mullen, turning down offers from two other schools, including Miami. And that decision gave him the experience he would not have gotten elsewhere.
One unique experience Tiano points to from his time as a Bulldog is getting to sit behind QB Dak Prescott for a season. He also cherished getting to learn from Dan Mullen.
“Playing at MSU was an incredible experience. Dan Mullen and his staff are some of the best coaches in the country, and I learned so much from them.”
After Prescott was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, Nick Tiano joined Damian Williams, Elijah Staley and Nick Fitzgerald to compete to replace Prescott at quarterback. After Mullen personally commended Tiano for his progress, the Bulldogs ultimately went with Fitzgerald to be the starter. Faced with a tough decision, Tiano decided to move back to his hometown and transferred to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“I felt like I worked way too hard and loved the game way too much to sit on the bench. As much as I hated to leave, I just wanted to get on the field and give myself a chance to play at the next level.”
Tiano on the decision to transfer to Chattanooga
Looking back, Tiano has no regrets. Classifying his transfer to UTC as humbling, Tiano doubts he would have the diverse skill set he possesses today had he stayed in Starksville. During his time at MSU and UTC, Tiano learned three different offenses, and learned to cherish every start, knowing how hard it was to spend time on the other side of the coin. Tiano specifically referenced his sophomore and junior years at UTC, where he was able to play in a pro-style offense, best suiting his abilities.
“I could make all the checks at the line, change protections, routes, or even check plays if I wanted. I was extremely comfortable in the system and I was able to play at a high level.”
While he may have been most comfortable in a pro-style offense, Tiano notes the coaching change his senior season as an opportunity for growth. The new system was essentially the opposite of the one he played in his sophomore and junior year, and Tiano notes that he was forced to grow as a leader, and is thankful to get to see the game through an entirely different lens. Now, the quarterback feels extremely ready for an opportunity in the NFL, regardless of the system or environment.
I asked Tiano if a particular moment stood out from his collegiate career. He instantly recalled a game against The Citadel in his junior season. Playing the best game of his career, UTC traded shots with their SoCon rival and eventually wound up in OT. After the Citadel scored first, the Mocs had to answer. Not only did Tiano and the Mocs score, but they ran a trick play to wind the game on a successful two-point conversion. Tiano called it “the type of win you don’t forget.”
Nick Tiano, 2020 NFLPA Game MVP
Despite coming from a smaller school, Tiano has made a name for himself leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft. After receiving an invite to the 2020 NFLPA Game, Tiano walked away with the game’s MVP honors.
In addition to throwing a beautiful 48-yard deep ball for a TD to Arkansas State’s Kirk Merritt, Tiano ushered a game-clinching drive for the National team in a 30-20 win. He finished the game 8/10 for 135 passing yards and a score. A class act, Tiano pointed to the great job the NFLPA planning committee did.
“The NFLPA did an amazing job with the game, everything was first class for us. Getting the chance to be coached by hall of famers and NFL greats was so cool as just a fan of the game, and I learned so much from them and tried to take in every bit of advice they had.”
Tiano also gave a shoutout to his coaching staff, specifically doting on Kevin Mawae, Jackie Slater, and Rod Woodson. Not a bad trio of NFL veterans to learn from.
Nick Tiano, 2020 NFL Draft Prospect
At 6-4, 240 pounds, Nick Tiano is a pro-style quarterback that certainly has the arm to play in the NFL. And considering his size, he is extremely mobile and can make plays with this legs. When asked what he thinks his best strengths are, Tiano highlights “what’s above the shoulders” as a trait that separates him from other quarterbacks.
“I have the size and the arm for sure, but to me, there are a lot of guys who have that. I think what separates guys in the NFL is what’s above the shoulders. Your knowledge of the game and ability to read defenses, understand your playbook and gameplan, and execute that on gameday is what will make you a great QB. I think my knowledge of the game is my biggest strength and I hope that can help me play for a long time. Also, outside of the X’s and O’s, I am going to do everything right off the field, and do everything I can to be the best player I can be to help the team.”
Tiano, who likes to watch multiple quarterbacks, specifically covets recently retired Colts QB Andrew Luck and his toughness.
“I think the QB should be the toughest player on the team, and he played like that.”
For the past few months, Tiano has been training in Denver, Colorado training at Landow Performance under QB coach Steve Fairchild. Not unlike his time working out at Baylor School just a few years ago, Tiano’s days begin early. He starts with speed and agility work before throwing, and then finishes the day with weights and an ice bath before watching tape.
A glimpse into Tiano’s future
Perhaps the only disadvantage Nick Tiano faces in the upcoming NFL Draft is the depth of the quarterback position. With big names like Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow all projected to go in the top 10 picks, this year’s pool also features plenty of talent in the middle rounds.
However, there really may not be a better overall prospect than Tiano. He’s played in multiple offenses. He has the arm, and more importantly, he has the brain. He’s learned from some of the NFL’s best at the position, and he has openly embraced being the leader and the face of a program.
In speaking with Tiano, and as a fellow Chattanooga native, I can say with the utmost confidence that Tiano will be fine without football, whenever that day arrives. Tiano loves the game, and has aspirations to coach one day, preferably back at Baylor School in Chattanooga. Outside of football, he also would like to own his own business.
In the first four months of 2020, Tiano got engaged to his best friend, won NFLPA MVP honors, and has enjoyed fishing and spending time with his dog, Hank. In his own words, he likes to play golf, and he’s a simple guy.
Even if his journey has been anything but simple.