The new dinosaur is called Suskityrannus hazelae, named after the Zuni word for coyote.
Standing roughly 3 feet tall at the hip and about 9 feet in length, it was much less threatening, however.
By contrast, T. rex is thought to have weighed around 9 tons.
"Suskityrannus helps us constrain the time that large tyrannosauroid dinosaurs got big-sometime after approximately 92 million years ago-and became the biggest meat eaters at the time", said Nesbitt.
"Suskityrannus gives us a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they take over the planet", Nesbitt said in the release.
"My discovery of a partial skeleton of Suskityrannus put me onto a scientific journey that has framed my career", said Nesbitt, also a member of the Virginia Tech Global Change Center.
"It also belongs to a dinosaurian fauna that just proceeds the iconic dinosaurian faunas in the latest Cretaceous that include some of the most famous dinosaurs, such as Triceratops, predators like Tyrannosaurus rex, and duckbill dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus".
The two juvenile fossils from Zuni, New Mexico were discovered back in 1997 and 1998 with Nesbitt himself discovering the second, more complete fossil as a teenager.
Two specimens of the dinosaur were found by Arizona Museum of Natural History crews in the Zuni Basin of western New Mexico between 1996 and 1998.
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"Suskityrannus has a much more slender skull and foot than its later and larger cousins, the Tyrannosaurus rex", Nesbitt told the university. Nesbitt said permission was granted from the Zuni Tribal Council to use the word "Suski".
However its relative, the very big Tyrannosaurus Rex we all know, only evolved around 15 million years before the dinosaurs were wiped out.
The specimen Nesbitt found is so complete, it's helping researchers learn about this wee tyrannosaur, which predates T. rex by about 25 million years. An analysis of the fossil's bone growth suggests that it was 3 years old when it died, but a full-grown Suskityrannus probably wasn't much larger than this one.
"You can think of this new tyrannosaur as a hugely important piece in the previously incomplete jigsaw puzzle of North American dinosaur evolution", said Alan H. Turner, an Associate Professor of Anatomical Sciences in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.
At first, what they thought they had were the remains of something closer to a Velociraptor, Nesbitt explained, according to the release.
Wolfe said, "When I first met Sterling, he was a young student with extraordinary focus and passion".
The Arizona Museum of Natural History will house a replica of the dinosaur.
"The small group of tyrannosauroid (http://paleontologyworld.com/dinosaurs-%E2%80%93-species-encycolpedia-curiosities/tyrannosauroidea) dinosaurs would give rise to some of the biggest predators that we've ever seen", Nesbitt said.