Tyner moves on to UO 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 College of the Siskiyous is “one of the most beautiful community colleges in California" that seeks to make a "comfortable transition between high school and university life,” according to the school's website.

It's a fine junior college with solid athletic programs. The football team won the Central Division Championship last year. They sent two players to Division One universities 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 TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - 
Former Aloha running back Thomas Tyner is looking to make an immediate impact for the Ducks this fall both on offense and special teams. His ability to break long runs will go a long way to playing early.

He was born to play for the University of Oregon, to utilize and maximize his God-given abilities in their 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 junior. The Aloha superstar, who helped the Warriors win the 2010 state championship and was the 6A offensive player of the year, seemed destined for stardom.

All-American nominations. Heisman chatter. National championship games. NFL draft pick. 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 sitting on the desk and a stern expression affixed 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 young prodigy.

“She said, 'You get your grades up and go D1, 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 will run the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay for the UO — said not competing for Aloha one last time cut him emotionally.

“I missed it a lot,” said Tyner. “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 out there. It was different going out there, watching, knowing that could've been me.”

When the sun came out late in school year, and his friends mobbed out to Sauvie's 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,” said Tyner. “I knew what I had to do. I had to stay in, and it all paid off.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Former Aloha star running back Thomas Tyner said one of the highlights of his Warrior career was helping Aloha beat Jesuit in 2010 for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.

The painstaking detail Tyner put into his schoolwork was met with triumphant success. He closed the spring term with a 3.5 grade point average, 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 very well help him accomplish his next goal of playing in the NFL.

For all his athletic gifts, all his individual records he set both on the football field and the track, Tyner confessedly thought he was untouchable off the football field as he was on it. Tyner said instead of bunkering down in the classroom, he slacked off somewhat, thinking he could glide into a Division One program the same way he skates around helpless tacklers.

Now, Tyner understands he has to be as skilled and hard-working in the lecture halls as he is on the field.

Fresh start

Tyner started summer school on Monday at the UO, confident the NCAA Clearinghouse would clear him to suit up for the Ducks in the fall.

“Everything's not given to you, you have to keep pushing for it, you have to work for it,” said Tyner. “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 the present and the future as a Duck, both of which are full of promise.

Tyner prides himself on being a three-dimensional-threat type of football player. Of course, he's primarily a running back, but he's also proficient running routes from the wide receiver position with 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 as a youth, 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 literally from anywhere on the field at any given time. The Duck 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,” said Tyner. “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's solely a finesse back.

That stigma couldn't be further from the truth.

A tank

At a yoked up 210 pounds with the potential to pack on 15 to 20 pounds 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,” said former Aloha head coach Chris Casey. “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.”

He might run like a sports car on the edge, but when it's time to run inside, Tyner'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 6A classification.

“I don't handle the critics, I just walk past 'em,” said Tyner. “That's just more people talking. I just play my game, that's it.”

The biggest transition of playing big-time Division One football, Tyner said won't be the physical nature of the game. Tyner can already handle the wear and tear of a 12-game season. Plus, at the U.S. Army All-American Game in January, Tyner took on defensive linemen who averaged 6'4”, 310 pounds and adjusted right away.

Moving forward

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,” laughed Tyner. “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 may already have a leg up on his fellow freshmen teammates in terms of life lessons when they arrive on campus this week. Hesitant with his initial pledge to former UO head 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 ahold of Tyner's cellphone number and let the teenager have it for wavering on his commitment. Tyner said there were death threats aimed at him from anonymous cowards picking on 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,” remembered Tyner. “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 just glad it's over. I'm just glad I'm settled in.”

One of the kids

Away from sports Tyner is an avid SpongeBob watcher who also is 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 has already been granted. Aside from sheer athleticism, what else distinguishes Tyner is that he is 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's 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 backed away from personal praising.

“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. “He constantly deflected any recognition of himself. He was the guy who did a great job of fostering community, school and team. That's what we believed as a mentality.”

He's only 18 years old, 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,” said Tyner.

Pure velocity

Few people can catch Tyner, when it comes to pure velocity and work ethic. The University of Oregon mens' sprint crew will certainly benefit from Tyner's arrival next spring.

In times of trouble, Tyner always had the speed to run away.

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 pay-dirt. 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 away to victory.

“It's real easy, when you're as talented as he is to get sucked into the fact that winning comes easy,” said Miles. “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 comeback and work harder every offseason.”

Miles said Tyner compares favorably to 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 as well. Miles estimates University of Oregon strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe has around 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,” said Miles. “They're at seeing if you're going to be world class in any event, and they let you blossom and show that kind of talent. I'm excited to see what he can do in track.”

Through it all, Tyner's 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, each test.

“I get motivated just thinking about the future and what it could be, and what it's going to take to get there.” said Tyner. “I'm not going to get there unless I work for it, that's what the last four years taught me most.”

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