Virginia’s Scott Stadium was half empty. The raucous home crowd was chased away by another Oregon offensive explosion. It was the fourth quarter and the Ducks were up 45-10 over the Virginia Cavaliers. After much anticipation and hype, freshman running back Thomas Tyner finally took the field. The Oregon native was handed the football for the first time in his collegiate career and dashed into the end zone, picking up the Ducks seventh touchdown for the day. Minutes later, Tyner rushed for another touchdown, setting the final score: 59-10. Were these meaningless touchdowns in another Oregon route or the start of what Duck fans hope is a peek at a special college football career?
Thomas Tyner’s much-anticipated NCAA debut provided a glimpse of the immense talent he displayed during his record-breaking career at Aloha High School. It reminded Oregonians of his 10 touchdown, 643-yard performance in a high school win against Lakeridge. Tyner also earned the state record for most yards in a single season, picking up 3,415 his senior year. Highly regarded as a top talent, Tyner was a USA Today All-American and was ranked 12th among all players by Scout.com and the nation’s No. 2 running back by Sports Illustrated coming out of high school.
However, Tyner caused quite a stir when he announced that he was holding off on his commitment to Oregon to explore his other options. Other Pac-12 schools were fighting for a chance to get the two-time, 6A OSAA state offensive player of the year, but he eventually decided to stick with the Ducks and stated that Oregon was always one of his top choices.
“I just knew Oregon was the place I would succeed the most, not just athletic wise, academic wise too,” Tyner said after Monday’s practice.
In his first ever college game, Tyner’s stat line exemplified the potential for his success. On only four carries, Tyner rushed for 51 yards and tacked on two touchdowns.
In the post-game press conference on Saturday, head coach Mark Helfrich stated that Tyner possessed qualities that simply come from natural ability.
“I thought that his zone cut on his longer touchdown was a natural cut,” Helfrich said. “Either guys have that or they don’t. [Running backs coach] Gary Campbell is an incredible running back coach, but you can’t teach that feel, so that was amazing.”
Even though Tyner’s first performance created attention, Campbell stated he wants to see more and that after one game he can’t predict where Tyner will end up at the end of the year.
“It’s only been one game, what four carries? Well, I would like to see more than what I saw Saturday,” Campbell said.
Although Campbell may not know what the future holds for Tyner, when asked about him, Oregon’s longest tenured football coach in school history said that he always saw a sign of maturity in Tyner.
“I think that the maturity started in the summer when he was working out with the veterans,” Campbell said. “By the time we got into camp I think he knew what he had to do in order to get himself in a position to play.”
Campbell referred to Tyner as a “great kid” who has some technical adjustments to make, but from what he witnessed on Saturday, Tyner is going to be fine. With a great first showing, some may even speculate that Tyner could move his way up the depth chart, getting more and more carries as the season progresses.
“He is doing well with it (adjusting), he’s going to get the opportunity, he has a lot of games left, a lot of football … he is going to get his share of playing time,” Campbell said.
With the clear-cut ability and playing for the No. 2 team in the nation, the spotlight looks like it could be shining on the 5-11, 201-pound running back during parts of the season. However, Tyner stated that he doesn’t let the hype affect him.
“Well, I just don’t really pay attention to it,” Tyner said. “I just play my game, let all that stuff (hype) aside and play the game and contribute to my team. My community raised me well. Just a class act (on the field), don’t get big headed and stay humble.”
As many know, including Tyner himself, Oregon has had somewhat of a legacy at the running back position. Tyner said that he has drawn inspiration from past players and has even talked to some.
“After my first game, LaMichael (James) actually said congratulations to me and a bunch of other people … And I was like whoa, this is crazy and even Jonathan Stewart said something to me,” said Tyner after Monday’s practice. “It definitely motivates me having those caliber players telling me congrats.”
On Saturday, the Oregon native turns 19 as the Ducks face off against the Tennessee Volunteers. His birthday last year marked another outstanding performance — that’s when he took the stage against Lakeridge. As history tends to repeat itself, Saturday’s match-up could be another big day for Tyner, but the freshman stated his main focus is the team.
“I think this season we’ll have a really good chance at the national championship. Whatever I can do to contribute to them, that is what I am going to do. My goal is just really to help the team, I am just going to play my game and that is going to take me wherever it goes,” Tyner said.