Thomas Tyner: The feeling of the first TD
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Oregon freshman running back Thomas Tyner couldn’t have asked for a better scenario to unfold when UO defensive back Dior Mathis’ long, fourth-quarter interception return ended at the Virginia three-yard line Saturday at Scott Stadium.
Moments earlier, running backs coach Gary Campbell had informed Tyner, a five-star recruit out of Aloha High School, that he would enter the 59-10 win on UO’s next possession.
So when Mathis’ return that began in Oregon’s end zone came to a halt, Tyner had one thing on his mind: score.
He did. And he made it look easy.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Tyner took the hand off from quarterback Jeff Lockie, cut to his left and then powered his way in for the touchdown.
“For me to get into the end zone on my first play was exciting,” he said. “I can’t even explain the feeling.”
The play happened directly in front of Oregon’s traveling fan base, which cheered wildly for its new star.
Get used to it. After an interesting first five weeks to his career, Tyner arrived with a bang at Virginia, rushing for 51 yards on four carries for two touchdowns for No. 2 Oregon.
Paris Hilton no more. More on that later.
Tyner simply might be the best running back prospect ever to hit Eugene.
He’s a bigger version of LaMichael James. Faster and more elusive than the 235-pound Jonathan Stewart.
Tyner’s potential has no limits. But must continue to grow, and not just physically.
So far, he’s on the right track. Campbell said he has witnessed much maturation in Tyner since last spring. Tyner was forced to continue doing so during fall camp.
Tyner has taken his lumps on the practice field. He's felt a little heat from critics. Some wondered about his toughness and preparedness. Coach Mark Helfrich had to assure everyone that Tyner would not redshirt despite reports of his struggles.
Tyner, some say, entered camp a big arrogant. Cocky. Expecting to dominate right away.
Sources say a big hit on him during practice might have humbled him. Tyner himself said he has had to adapt to the physicality of the college game.
“When I first came in I felt like I had to adjust a lot,” he said. “Practicing against our defense, which is one of the best around, they prepared me well for games.”
From the big hit at practice on, Tyner was frequently absent from practice. He was spotted in a walking boot. Some questioned his toughness, a refrain that unfairly first surfaced when he missed several games his junior season.
Could he handle the punishment he would take in college football?
Many wondered. Some still do. We won’t know for sure for sometime.
But what is known, and what was supported again on Saturday, is that the man is ultra talented.
His 31-yard touchdown run showed off his vision, cutting ability and a burst of speed that made him a state sprint champion in high school. He holds the 6A record in the 100 meters at 10.35 seconds.
“Natural runner,” Helfrich said. “I thought that zone cut on the longer touchdown was really a natural cut. Guys either have that or they don’t.”
As for the Paris Hilton comparison made on Talkin’ Ducks last week, here’s clarification:
The statement was not meant to imply that Tyner is soft or lacks talent. In fact, his talent was praised following the Hilton comparison. Instead, it was simply to illustrate that Tyner had been arguably the most talked about Ducks player to date opener despite not having done a thing on the field. He had missed numerous practices and did not play in the season opener against Nicholls.
Yet, talk shows devoted segments to him. Every media outlet was writing about him, often.
One would have thought Tyner was a Heisman candidate rather than a freshman competing to be the No. 3 running back.
Yes, he accomplished a lot in high school. But players, coaches and the media always like to remind everyone that high school accomplishments mean little once a player reaches college. Same is said about college stars who enter the NFL.
Every scholarship player on Oregon’s roster accomplished great things in high school. That’s why Oregon recruited them.
So resting on that as the reason for the constant media interest doesn’t wash.
Nevertheless, none of that was Tyner’s fault. He didn’t seek attention. In fact, he wasn’t even allowed by Oregon to speak to the media until the Monday following the Nicholls game, which he missed.
Still, Tyner needed a performance like Saturday’s to remind everyone just how good he can be.
It’s apparent that he will be the Ducks third running back behind De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall.
Oregon is going to need Tyner at some point this season. Fortunately, even when he was sidelined he said he made sure to study the offense. Consequently, Tyner said he has improved greatly since camp started.
“I’m a lot better,” he said. “I had a setback early this year…but I got in a lot of mental reps. I still studied.”
Good thing for Oregon.
Now Tyner is worthy of all of the attention from both onlookers and opposing defenses.
It all began with three-yard run he will never forget.
“It was short,” he said with a laugh. “But it was fun.”
More fun lay ahead.