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Former Oregon Duck and now Oregon State Beaver missed football, hopes his final year can get him to the NFL

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Thomas Tyner speaks with the media before a game in 2015. The former Oregon Duck will be playing his final season at Oregon State this season.It seemed funny to see Thomas Tyner on Tommy Prothro practice field last week, wearing an orange No. 4 jersey as Oregon State began training camp.

After all, Oregon fans were used to watching him wear the school's various colors in the Ducks' backfield during the 2013 and '14 seasons.

But now the former Aloha High standout is playing for the Ducks' arch-rival as he returns to college football for a senior season, two years after taking a medical retirement from the sport.

Wearing orange and black doesn't seem odd at all to him.

"I grew up watching Oregon State," Tyner said at Valley Football Center after the initial practice. "When I was at Aloha, coach (Chris) Casey and I would come down to watch the Beaver practices sometimes. Oregon State was the first school to recruit me. I started going to their games in high school. And I had a pretty good connection with (then-OSU) coach (Mike) Riley.

"I couldn't go back to Oregon because of the medical retirement. Growing up as a Beaver, I felt like I would like to play for Oregon State, given that opportunity."{img:164913}

During his two years away from football, Tyner wasn't sure what he would do with the rest of his life.

"My original plan was to move to Bend and be a lumber broker," he said. "Maybe that's for afterward."

Now, he'd like a chance to play professionally.

"I want to see where this takes me," he said. "Hopefully that's to the NFL."

Tyner rushed for 1,284 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman and sophomore in 2013 and '14. He shared tailback duties with Byron Marshall in Oregon's 30-7 win over Texas in the 2013 Alamo Bowl, running six times for 22 yards. Tyner was Oregon's leading rusher in a 42-20 loss to Ohio State in the 2015 national championship game, carrying 12 times for 62 yards.

Tyner topped 100 yards rushing twice with the Ducks, gaining 140 yards as a freshman in the 2013 Civil War, then going for 124 yards against Florida State in the 2015 CFP semifinals at the Rose Bowl.

But Tyner, who had injured his shoulder while returning a kickoff against Washington in October 2014, sat out the 2015 season after shoulder surgery. In February 2016, it was announced that Tyner would take a medical retirement, which opened a scholarship for the Ducks but meant he couldn't come back to play for them.

Tyner continued as a student at Oregon, but eventually decided he'd like to return to the gridiron.

"Once you're about ready to be done with (college), you have to figure out what you want to do with your life," he said. "I don't like living with 'what ifs." For me, the 'what if' was with football. I didn't want to go out the way I did — medically retired. I felt I owed it to myself."

So Tyner is now at OSU, a walk-on —though a uniquely qualified one — in a crowded backfield that includes starting tailback Ryan Nall and backup Artavis Pierce, along with Trevorris Johnson, a senior transfer from Texas Christian, and scholarship freshmen Calvin Tyler and B.J. Baylor.

Tyner's high school credentials were impeccable. He set a state single-season rushing record of 3,415 yards as a senior at Aloha in 2013. In a game against Lakeridge that fall — ironically, on his 18th birthday — Tyner rushed for 643 yards and 10 touchdowns. The yardage ranks second on the national prep single-game list. He was a first-team Parade and USA Today All-American and was rated the nation's No. 2 running back by SI.com.

Nall was a junior at Central Catholic that season.

"I didn't know Thomas personally, but I knew who he was," Nall said. "I remember hearing about the 10-touchdown game, and thinking, 'Was there even a defense on the field?' It was crazy."

Casey wasn't running up the score that night against Lakeridge, incidentally.

"It was 63-63 with eight minutes to go," said Casey, the brother of OSU baseball coach Pat Casey and the football coach at George Fox. "(Lakeridge coach) Tom Smythe was throwing the ball all over the place, and we were running the ball all over the place. The final score was 84-63. I didn't know Thomas had that much yardage until the end of the game."

Tyner is the greatest player Casey coached at the prep level.

"He played very hard," Casey said. "From snap to whistle, it was like he was shot out of a cannon. He finished off runs, too. Not only did he have tremendous speed and change of direction, he'd be very physical finishing a run, taking it to the tackler."

The 5-11 Tyner — who then weighed 210 pounds — was a speed merchant who had set the state 100-meter record as a sophomore at Aloha. He ran 10.6 or better 10 times that spring and owns the five fastest times ever at the distance in Oregon prep history, but missed most of his last two track seasons with injuries.

Oregon's premier track and field program figured "a lot" into his decision to sign with the Ducks, even though he never competed in the sport for them.

"I was so busy with football, and I hadn't run track since my junior year in high school," he said. "I gained weight at Oregon. I was in football shape, not track shape."

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Thomas Tyner carries the ball for the Oregon Ducks during the Rose Bowl versus Florida State. The former Aloha Warrior will be playing this season for the Oregon State Beavers.Tyner called his time at Oregon "a learning experience."

"It was a unique opportunity to be able to play in the Rose Bowl and the national championship game," he said. "To be around a program like that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I give gratitude to them for recruiting me and helping me with school. I had fun there."

But now he is a Beaver, calling Corvallis home, if only temporarily.

"It's awesome," he said. "The guys have done a great job of making me feel a part of the team. I love coming in every morning. It's a happy place for me. The whole community has been very welcoming to me. I love it here.

"It's fun to be back playing football. I missed it. It's more exciting than anything."

Though Oregon State was already loaded at tailback, coach Gary Andersen was only too happy to add Tyner to his roster.

"When you get a chance to get a good player like that, you never say no," he said. "You need depth at running back in the Pac-12. We went through a lot of them at different times last year.

"Ryan's at the top of the list, and the other guys can compete their asses off. We may use some two-back stuff, or use one or two of the guys at an H-back position. Thomas is going to get a lot of reps through camp, and we'll see what happens as we move through. We have a lot of guys at that position. It's a hell of a great problem to have."

"He's smooth," quarterback Jake Luton said. "He's a big dude. You watch him run, he just glides. He has all the talent in the world."

Tyler took some turns returning punts during OSU's first practice session, and is also amenable to returning kickoffs this fall.

"I talked with the special-teams coach (Jake Cookus) about it today," he said. "All I want to do is contribute to the team in any way I can.

"My goals this year are mostly team-oriented. We want to make it to a bowl game, and we have all the tools to do it."

Tyner already has bonded with Nall, who lives in the same apartment complex.

"We had dinner with our girlfriends together last week," Tyner said. "He's been here for a while. He knows the offensive scheme well. Even off the field, he's had me come over to his place and look over the playbook. When I first came to Corvallis, I didn't have a place to stay. He offered to have me stay at his place. He's been kind of like a bigger brother to me."

Funny, because Tyner turns 23 in September, and Nall is 21.

"A younger big brother," Tyner said with a smile.

Tyner believes his problems with both shoulders are behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "We haven't put on pads yet, but I think my shoulders are stable and strong. With the work we've done this summer, I feel like I got a lot stronger."

Casey believes Tyner will be a capable addition to the Beavers this fall.

"Thomas' greatest quality as a person is his humility," Casey said. "He's a sensitive, shy, humble family kid. He was a pleasure to coach. For the amount of success he has had, he has humility to go with his tremendous talent.

"He'll do well at Oregon State. He has a lot of determination and drive and desire. He will work very hard, like he always has. He's very motivated, he's healthy and he's rested after two years away from football."

Tyner has changed his major to liberal studies and is on target to graduate in December.

"That's the plan," he said.

His final regular-season game will be at a very familiar place — on Nov. 25 at Autzen Stadium against his old team.

"I've definitely thought about that," he said. "But one day at a time."

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