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October 27, 2010

Tyner: Sophomore speedster has star potential

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Just get to your seat. The bathroom will still be there in the second quarter. Don't wait around for whomever parked the car. Don't stop for popcorn. Don't even blink. Otherwise you're going to be left scratching your head, wondering why the scoreboard is lighting up again.

Thomas Tyner. That's why.

At least if you happened to linger by the concession stand a few minutes too long after the Oct. 22 opening kickoff between Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha and Beaverton (Ore.) High, that is. Aloha already had returned a pick-six and forced a punt by the time that nice ticket booth lady let you through the turnstiles. Then the Warriors gave the ball to Tyner.

Thanks for coming. Drive home safely.

In the time it took you to sprinkle relish on your hot dog, the sophomore running back grabbed a sweep toss from quarterback Caylen Clardy at midfield, found a crease in the extending defense and burst through into the open field. When that happens, the story invariably ends with two words: Touch. Down. The PAT team is jogging onto the field before you can grab the ketchup.

"The best way I can describe Thomas Tyner is that he's a difference-maker," says Ken Potter, head coach of Portland (Ore.) Jesuit. "I've been coaching in Oregon a long time and we haven't seen very many backs like him here. He's the kind of running back that you only typically see or hear about in places like Texas, Florida or California."

Spoken like a man who watched Tyner shred his powerhouse Jesuit team the week before for 378 total yards and three touchdowns. After his 50-yard wind sprint against Beaverton left him with 15 touchdowns and 1,152 yards for the season, Tyner - nursing a sore shoulder - had a couple more short-yardage carries before his night was done with a 48-3 win all but sealed by the end of the first quarter.

At a chiseled 6-0 and 200 pounds, the 16-year-old Tyner already has adequate size and strength to be a standout running back, but invariably what is garnering him national attention is the fact that the kid who's barely old enough to drive can flat-out fly.

"He has incredible speed and that's the thing you can't coach and you can't teach," Potter said. "When he breaks through a seam, he's as fast as anybody in the state."

Maybe even the country. Tyner - nicknamed "Dash" by his teammates - finished second in the 100m at the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in August. Last spring, he was runner-up (just ahead of four-star University of Oregon freshman wide receiver - and Jesuit alum - Keanon Lowe) in the 100m at the Oregon 6A state finals. His wind-aided 10.54 put him squarely among the fastest sprinters in the nation - as a freshman. Moreover, his unofficial 40-yard dash time (4.38) would have beaten every rookie running back at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine except for C.J. Spiller (4.37) and Jahvid Best (4.35).

"Whether you call it game speed, this speed or that speed, he's got it," Aloha head coach Chris Casey said. "He's the fastest guy I've ever coached and that includes coaching 19 years at the college level."

Speed is one thing, football instincts another. That's the part of his game that Rivals.com football analyst Adam Gorney first noticed.

"Tyner has exceptional speed but what impresses me even more about him is his cutback ability and balance," Gorney said. "I've seen multiple times where he's close to being tackled or almost falling down and then somehow gets upright and keeps running."

Gorney, who covers the West Coast, said Tyner will be a national prospect in two years because of his abilities.

"He's not easily tackled even though he's considered a speed back," Gorney said. "Once Tyner gets in the open field, forget about it, because he's going to score a touchdown. If the defense doesn't wrap him up somewhere near the line of scrimmage, he's capable of breaking a big run every time he has the ball in his hands."

*****

Thomas Tyner's introduction to the game came at a young age when he tagged along with his older brother Michael (a senior wide receiver/defensive back at Aloha) to youth football games.

"We used to always race each other when we were kids," Michael Tyner said. "When we were real young, I used to be faster than Thomas but at some point he started blowing by me and he's pretty much been blowing by people ever since."

Tyner wasn't really conscious of the fact that he was equipped with afterburners until the first time he officially touched the ball during a youth league game in the third grade.

"The first time they had me run was on a punt return," Tyner recalled. "I caught it and just took off. I remember all the coaches' mouths just kind of dropped and that's when I knew that maybe I had some ability."

Maybe that's an understatement. But that ability hasn't just turned Tyner into one of the region's most promising Class of 2013 prospects, it's helped transform a previously moribund football program into a contender while playing a role in giving pride to an entire community.

The last time that Aloha beat Jesuit - arguably Oregon's most storied program - in football, Ronald Reagan had just begun his second term in the White House, 'We Are The World' topped the pop charts and Back to the Future (the first one) reigned at the box office. That was 1985. Nine years before Thomas Tyner was even born.

The drought finally ended on Oct. 15 with Tyner taking off like a DeLorean in cleats en route to 298 yards rushing and two touchdowns to go along with an 80-yard touchdown reception that spurred the Warriors to a decisive 38-25 victory over the Crusaders (then No. 52 in the RivalsHigh 100).

"It was a great feeling," Tyner said with a broad smile. "We hadn't beaten them in so long; it's just a big thing for the team and our whole community."

For more than two decades, residents of this unincorporated, working-class area of Beaverton in Portland's largely affluent western suburbs had little to cheer about in the way of high school football. In fact, when head coach Chris Casey took over at Aloha six seasons ago, the program had all but cemented a tradition of perpetual mediocrity.

"That first year was a learning experience for everybody," Casey said. "I kid that you could have let a wild dog loose in the stadium [during a home game] and it wouldn't find anybody to bite that first season."

Slowly, Casey - a 29-year coaching veteran with an NCAA D-III national championship (as a Linfield College assistant) on his resume - began to right the ship. Last season, Aloha surged to its first state playoff appearance since 1986 before losing to eventual 6A state champion Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon in the second round. In the process, the team sent their supporters into a frenzy that's now reaching a fever pitch, at least by Oregon standards, with the 7-1 Warriors ranked No. 4 and firmly in the hunt for a state title.

"Overall this really is a true blue-collar community and we represent that blue-collar mentality," Casey said. "The number one focal point of this community is the high school and their electricity and energy has been a huge piece of the puzzle for us."

Of course, another significant piece is the young man wearing the No. 4 jersey.

*****

Tyner played in his first full varsity game toward the end of last season and promptly ran for 102 yards on 14 carries in a 20-16 win over Portland (Ore.) Westview. He suffered an ankle injury in the next game, however, and was forced to the sidelines for the bulk of Aloha's playoff run. Coming into his sophomore year, Tyner sat down with Casey to discuss his goals for this season.

"He could have easily said '1,000 yards,' or 'All-League' but instead he said, 'I just want to stay healthy so I can help the team,' and I thought that was a very mature response," Casey said. "He's just a real quiet, humble kid. He always gives credit to the [offensive] line."

Even with a solid group of linemen, led by senior James Euscher (an early commit to Oregon), opening holes, Tyner knew that he had work to do if he wanted to rely on more than being able to go from zero to 40 in 4.4.

"It doesn't really matter how fast you are," he said, "It's how you use the speed."

Tyner used the spring - under the tutelage of his sprint coaches during his first full track season - to improve his running mechanics and focused his preseason training on reading blocks, making cuts and, when necessary, lowering the boom on any defender that might wander upon his path by choice or by chance.

"He already had speed so the things he can improve on he has improved on," Casey said. "He's learned to run with his shoulder pads down more, he's learned to run between the tackles better, he's just played tremendous this season."

Tyner has become Aloha's most explosive ball-carrier despite the presence of senior running backs John Shaffer and Troy Cardona, both All-Metro League performers last season, with all three sharing carries to form one of the most potent backfields in the state.

"We do a lot of the work for them," Euscher deadpanned. "Our running back talent this year really is phenomenal ... [Tyner] is a really quiet, very humble guy. He'd rather get the job done than talk about it, which is different from a lot of the running backs I've played against."

Tyner is quick to credit his teammates, Shaffer in particular, for their selfless guidance and for helping to keep him focused while also enforcing a stringent work ethic.

"We have great senior leaders and they've been pushing us throughout the season," Tyner said. "They don't let us slack off and I appreciate that because I can tend to slack off a little bit."

It's a guileless admission from a 16-year-old who chuckles when acknowledging that sleeping is probably his favorite pastime away from football.

Off the field, Tyner is a laidback personality who plays Call of Duty with friends, has four years of piano lessons under his belt ('Nothin' on You' by B.o.B. being a staple rendition) and confesses a dietary allegiance to the McDonald's McChicken sandwich.

Before games, Tyner prefers to listen to music (Lil Wayne's 'Right Above It' atop the playlist) and relax rather than pound shoulder pads and scowl.

It really isn't until Tyner steps onto the field that his presence becomes known. And this season's increased spotlight on Aloha has led to heightened exposure for Tyner, especially after his head-turning performance against Jesuit.

Still, Tyner shies away from individual attention and readily acknowledges that he still has plenty to improve upon. Of course, that hasn't kept many of the nation's top college programs - including Alabama, Penn State, Tennessee, Georgia and virtually all the Pac-10 schools - from flooding his mailbox with recruiting letters.

"That's not really on my mind at all," Tyner says. "It's nice that schools are showing interest but I still have two years left and the team is what's most important to me right now. I'm just trying to help the team, especially our seniors, get to where we want to go."

Namely, Oregon State's Reser Field, site of the 2010 Oregon 6A state championship game. The recruiters can wait. The future for Tyner - and, for the first time in a long time, Aloha - is right now.

MORE OREGON HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: Go to OregonPreps.com for the best coverage in the state.




 

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