Thomas Tyner at Oregon with high hopes
Five-star running backs don't show up at the College of the Siskiyous.
Located at the base of Mount Shasta, the school is one of the most beautiful community colleges in California" and makes a "comfortable transition between high school and university life, according to the its website.
Its football team won the Central Division championship last year, sent two players to Division I teams and had a bunch of players on the Mid-Empire all-conference team.
Thomas Tyner just couldn't see himself going there. Ever.
When Tyner was growing up watching Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, LaMichael James and the rest of his college football heroes on Saturdays, he didn't envision one day donning the Eagles' red and black.
He seemingly was born to play for the University of Oregon, to utilize and maximize his God-given abilities in the Ducks' vaunted spread offensive attack. A blue-chip prospect who had his pick of scholarship offers from coast-to-coast, Tyner committed to the Ducks at his dream school as a high school junior.
The Aloha superstar, who helped the Warriors win the 2010 state championship and was the Class 6A offensive player of the year, appeared destined for stardom,
All-American nominations, Heisman Trophy chatter, national championship games, the NFL draft.
The sky was the limit for Tyner as a Duck, that is, until one day late in the spring term of his junior year, when his athletic mortality looked him straight in the eye.
Tyner's guidance counselor, Lauren Randolph, pulled the running back into her office. A cumulative transcript of his less-than-stellar academic progress sat on the desk, and a stern expression was on her face.
Randolph didn't pull any punches with the gifted ball carrier, but merely slipped a colorful, glossy brochure of the College of the Siskiyous across the table to the prodigy.
She said, 'You get your grades up and go D-I or you go to Mt. Shasta (junior college), Tyner recalled. It was a reality check for me, really. Playing for the Oregon Ducks was my dream when I was a kid, and I didn't want to see it go to waste. So, I went to work. I had to.
A new focus
The 2010 100- and 200-meter-dash state champion didn't run track for Aloha this spring, not because the Duck football coaches wanted him to avoid injury, but because he was putting in hours upon hours with his tutors away from the oval. Tyner the state record-holder in the 100 meters plans to run the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay for Oregon. He said not competing for Aloha one last time cut him emotionally.
I missed it a lot, he said. One of my best friends, Nate Jackson, was out there, and I wanted to run with him. I grew up with Coach (Jay) Miles throughout high school, and he's a really good friend to me, too. It was just hard not running. It was different going out there, watching, knowing that could've been me.
When the sun came out late in the school year and his friends went to Sauvie Island for the day, Tyner was stuck in his parents' living room, solving algebraic equations and memorizing mathematical theories.
Everyone told me senior year was supposed to be stress-free, but this year was stressful, he said. I knew what I had to do. I had to stay in, and it all paid off.
The painstaking detail Tyner put into his schoolwork was met with triumphant success. He closed the spring term with a 3.5 GPA, a better SAT score and a new outlook on life.
His aspiration of running out of the Autzen Stadium tunnel was nearly taken away. Yet in the midst of the precariousness and fear that he'd be holed up in a shoddy Mt. Shasta dorm in the dry heat of August, Tyner came to a realization that could help him accomplish his next goal of playing in the NFL.
For all his athletic gifts, all his individual records on the football field and the track, Tyner confessed that he thought he was as untouchable off the football field as he was on it. Instead of bunkering down in the classroom, he slacked off somewhat, thinking he could glide into a D-I athletic program the same way he skates around helpless tacklers.
Now, Tyner understands that he has to be as skilled and hard-working in the lecture halls as he is on the field.
Tyner started summer school on Monday at the U of O, confident the NCAA Clearinghouse would clear him to suit up for the Ducks this fall.
Everything's not given to you, you have to keep pushing for it, you have to work for it, he said. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work. That's how it works in the classroom, too, so you have to put everything together so you can pursue what you want.
With his academic questions in the rearview mirror, Tyner can focus on his present and the future as a Duck, both of which are full of promise.
Tyner prides himself on being a three-dimensional threat in football. He's primarily a running back, but he's also proficient running routes from the wide receiver position and using his soft, natural pass-catching hands. On special teams, his world-class wheels make him exceptionally dangerous. That's if opponents decide to kick to him.
Tyner attributes his multifaceted game to his Aloha Pop Warner days, when he played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and punt returner. His game resembles the likes of a Chris Johnson or C.J. Spiller in that he can score from anywhere on the field. The Ducks' coaching staff has told Tyner they expect to get him on the field early in different formations to deploy his breakneck speed alongside Oregon's plethora of playmakers.
I want to be all over the place, he said. That's how Oregon is, they spread the defense out and run their skill position guys everywhere, so my goal is to work hard and do what I can do.
"I don't want to sit on the sidelines, so clearly I'm going to do whatever it takes to get where I want to be.
His effortless explosiveness like a Porsche going from 0-60 mph in three seconds and ability to change direction while maintaining full speed in the open field have led some to believe Tyner is solely a finesse back.
That stigma couldn't be further from the truth.
At a yoked-up 210 pounds with the potential to pack on 15 to 20 more of muscle and not lose a step, Tyner can bring the sledgehammer between the tackles.
He ran for hundreds of yards just on our inside run plays alone, former Aloha coach Chris Casey said. He finished runs very tough, very physical and just punished people who tried to tackle him.
"I think that gained him a lot of leadership and respect from his teammates as well.
"He's just so fast and has so many breakaway runs that people don't think of him as an inside runner.
Tyner might run like a sports car on the edge, but when it's time to run inside, he's a tank. And, he's itching to prove the haters wrong, those who say he can't handle the pounding of toting the rock 20 to 25 times a game and others who mock the talent around the state's 6A classification.
I don't handle the critics, I just walk past 'em, Tyner said. That's just more people talking. I just play my game, that's it.
The biggest transition, Tyner said, won't be the physical nature of the game. Tyner already can handle the wear and tear of a 12-game season. Plus, at the U.S. Army All-American Game in January, he took on defensive linemen who averaged 6-4, 310 pounds and adjusted right away.
Tyner is just like every other recent high school graduate heading off to college. He wonders what it's going to be like not seeing his parents every night when he comes home.
How he's going to get his laundry done? Will he fit in with a totally new group of people?
Living on his own, without that constant support system backing him, is going be unfamiliar, as is rooming with a couple of fellow teammates.
My mom tells me how much she's going to miss me, how much she's going to miss my loud music, Tyner said with a laugh. I'm only two hours away, but not seeing my parents every day is going to be different. I think a lot of kids struggle with that. Once I get down there, I think that's when it'll sink in.
Tyner already may have a leg up on his fellow freshman teammates in terms of life lessons as they arrive on campus this week. Hesitant with his initial pledge to former UO coach Chip Kelly, Tyner decommitted from the Ducks, backing out of his verbal commitment.
Tyner said he handled the decommitment responsibly, but the timing of the matter couldn't have been worse. With Aloha taking on Jesuit that week, Tyner said the whole team was distracted in its preparations for the top-dog Crusaders. The subsequent result was a 56-13 bashing, but that wasn't the worst part of Tyner's week.
Several fanatical Duck devotees somehow got Tyner's cellphone number and let him have it for wavering on his commitment. Tyner said there were anonymous death threats aimed at a teenager who just wanted to step back and weigh his options.
Once Tyner decommitted, two college coaches emailed him and said they were getting on a plane that same day to set up in-home visits. That night, both coaches were in the Tyner living room talking up their respective schools, trying to lure the five-star recruit into the fold. Tyner's mom, Donna, and his dad, John, were there through it all, walking their son through the minefield of negativity.
A lot of things were thrown at me that week, Tyner said. It's crazy what people do. I'm a 17-year-old kid, and I got adults throwing stuff at me that I never expected to hear. I was still a kid, and that's a lot to handle. The recruiting process is crazy. I'm glad it's over. I'm glad I'm settled in.
One of the kids
Away from sports, Tyner is an avid SpongeBob watcher and an excellent piano player. Play a tune on the radio and Tyner can perform it by ear. His favorite movie is The Truman Show, which is ironic as Tyner wants no part of the rock star status he already has been granted. Aside from sheer athleticism, what also distinguishes Tyner is that he is almost allergic to the spotlight. He does not seek adulation.
With all the abilities he has and all the attention he gets, away from it he's just a regular kid, said Jay Miles, Aloha track coach. I've been impressed more with how he's been able to stay a kid than I have his athletic ability.
When asked to assess his always high-quality performances, Tyner has backed away from personal praise.
He always showed appreciation for the offensive line, the people blocking downfield, the offensive coordinator for making the call, said Casey, who now coaches football at George Fox University. He constantly deflected any recognition of himself. He was the guy who did a great job of fostering community, school and team.
He's only 18, but he has a superior sense of of what being a role model to little kids truly means. Small fries playing Pop Warner around Aloha grapple to wear No. 4 when coaches pass out jerseys because they revere Tyner, the same way he admired his childhood heroes.
The way they looked at me, I know how that feels, and I want to give it back to them, Tyner said.
Few people can catch Tyner, when it comes to pure velocity and work ethic.
If Jesuit's defense was in hot pursuit on the football field, Tyner could kick his 4.28 40-yard dash into overdrive and hightail it to paydirt.
On the track, Tyner possessed a supernatural second gear that reigned supreme over the final 50 meters of his 10.4 100-meter dash.
In the event that a challenger was gutty enough to try and run with Tyner, the Aloha superstar simply turned on the jets and romped to victory.
It's real easy, when you're as talented as he is, to get sucked into the fact that winning comes easy, Miles said. He could've won easily all through his high school career, but facing other kids who are of the same caliber and having to push yourself, it really brought out his character and made him come back and work harder every offseason.
Miles said Tyner compares favorably to national caliber sprinter Ryan Bailey in physical stature at this stage of his life. Tyner's personal bests are similar to Justin Gatlin's when Gatlin was 18.
Miles estimates that University of Oregon strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe has about six Olympic-level athletes already in the fold, so Tyner will have all the teaching tools necessary to develop.
He has the tools to be an elite, national level sprinter, Miles said. I'm excited to see what he can do in track.
Through it all, Tyner has managed the spotlight with grace and aplomb. It surely wasn't all roses during his Aloha stint, but Tyner said he's grown from each trial and test.
I get motivated just thinking about the future and what it could be, and what it's going to take to get there. he said. I'm not going to get there unless I work for it, that's what the last four years taught me most.