Ex-Duck happy in role with Beavers
CORVALLIS — When Thomas Tyner made his surprising Civil War switch from Oregon to Oregon State last summer, he didn't expect to become the Beavers' workhorse at running back.
So Tyner isn't complaining about lack of inactivity as the Beavers (1-6 overall, 0-4 in Pac-12 play) prepare to play host to 20th-ranked Stanford at 6 p.m. Thursday at Reser Stadium.
The 5-11, 230-pound senior transfer has seen spot duty in his five appearances this season at running back and slotback, carrying 27 times for 126 yards (4.7-yard average) and a touchdown while catching two passes for 13 yards. It's his first action since a medical retirement for shoulder injuries following his junior season at Oregon in 2014.
"I'm just trying to play my role," the former prep All-American from Aloha High says. "I'm happy to be out here with the guys. It's tough getting back into football shape after being out for two years and trying to get back into the swing of things. I'm just having fun and trying to do the best I can."
Tyner has the misfortune of playing where the Beavers are deepest of any position on their roster. He's playing behind the 1-2 punch of junior Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce and also sharing duty with senior Trevorris Johnson, a graduate transfer from Texas Christian.
"I can't expect to get the majority of the carries with us having two guys who have been here for a while," Tyner says.
Tyner missed the Minnesota and Washington State games with a hamstring injury.
"Probably the result of being away for two years and getting used to running the ball," he says.
Tyner was Oregon State's leading rusher in a 42-7 loss against Washington on Sept. 30, carrying nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown. He had five rushes for 31 yards in a 36-33 defeat by Colorado on Oct. 14.
"I ran the ball hard against Colorado," he said. "Whenever I get my number called, I do the best I can.
"It took me a couple of games to get back into the swing of things and get used to playing college ball again. I felt like I was able to get back to my old self. I'm not getting as many carries as I did at Oregon, but with the few opportunities I've had, I've done pretty well."
Running backs coach Telly Lockette appreciates what he has in Tyner.
"Thomas is a talented kid, a great guy to be around," Lockette says. "The guys love him. But he has some very talented players he's competing with. We have a few guys who are pretty good at that position.
"We try to share the wealth and let a guy get a run here and there. We want to get him out there and see what he can do."
Lockette wants to get Tyner more involved without sacrificing the contributions of Nall and Pierce. Tyner has seen increasing duty at slotback, going in motion and taking the ball on fly sweeps.
"It's kind of like in high school," Tyner says. "It's fun to be able to get out there and utilize my speed."
Against Colorado, Tyner was in the backfield at the same time as Nall and Pierce on a couple of plays.
"It's about packaging those guys together and maximizing production," Lockette says. "We're trying to put those guys in opportunities where they can get the ball in space."
Co-offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven, who calls plays, says he'd like to get Tyner more involved in the offense, but not as the expense of the other running backs.
"We're looking for ways to use all those guys," McGiven says. "We want to create situations to get them on the field together. We mixed and matched a lot of them against Colorado. That's something we'd like to continue and to build on those packages.
"A lot of that depends on how you want to attack the defense and the personnel groups and formationing (the opponent employs). But if the defense lends itself to getting those packages on the field, we're going to try to keep that involved in the offense."
Lockett says Tyner is still working into football shape.
"If he can get down to his normal weight — maybe 215ish — he's going to be tough to handle," Lockette says. "When he got here, he was about 240. He's working toward where we want him to be. We know he can do some great things for us."
Tyner is the most decorated running back in Oregon prep history. He set a single-season rushing record with 3,415 yards as a senior at Aloha in 2013. In one game against Lakeridge that fall, he ran for 643 yards — which still ranks second on the national single-game list — and 10 touchdowns.
"I remember flipping on 'Friday Night Lights' and seeing he scored 10 touchdowns," says sophomore offensive tackle Blake Brandel, a former Central Catholic standout. "I always bring it up, and he hates it because he's such a humble guy.
"But yeah, I knew who Tommy T. was when he transferred here. It's exciting to have him with us. He's such a great guy, and everyone can see he can still play ball. It's good to have him on the team."
Before he resigned as coach, Gary Andersen said he intended to apply for a medical redshirt year for Tyner, meaning he would be eligible to play again next season.
"If the opportunity is there, it's something I'm definitely interested in," says Tyner, 23, who is on course to gain his degree in liberal studies in March. "There are a lot of things going on within this program that can change, so it's all up in the air for me right now.
"For now, I'm just going with the flow. We'll see what happens."
After three years at Oregon, does wearing an orange and black jersey feel funny to Tyner?
"Nope," he says with a smile. "It feels right. I like it."