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September 28, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Identified early as a future star, both the play and the potential of Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha running back Thomas Tyner has never been in question.
Whether he could stay on the field has been.
After the first month of the high school football season, Tyner leads a group of nationally relevant running backs who are trying to put prior injuries behind them.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that staying off the trainer's table will ultimately determine where Tyner ends in the national rankings.
"If he can show he is healthy, then he is probably our top-rated back," Farrell said. "He is a big kid, he is a track kid, and he is a five-star if he is healthy."
Tyner was one of the first players in the Class of 2013 to be awarded a five-star ranking when Rivals.com unveiled its initial rankings in December of 2011. He was also the first to lose that ranking when the updated list came after the earliest evaluation period.
Tyner is currently ranked as the No. 51 overall prospect and the sixth-best running back, but it certainly isn't for lack of production. The Oregon commit totaled 2,957 yards and 31 touchdowns between his sophomore and junior seasons, but he also missed seven games.
One of Tyner's top assets is his blazing speed. He set the state record in the 100-meter dash with a wind-aided 10.35 - a time good enough for fifth in the nation.
Legions of recruiting fans, and recruiting analysts, expected the phenom to use the summer camp circuit to cement his status as the premier player at his position.
Then he got hurt. Again.
In April, at the Oregon Relay's, Tyner was unable to finish his 100-meter sprint with another hamstring injury. It was the same injury that limited Tyner on the football field.
"Track kids often have reoccurring problems with their hamstrings," Farrell said. "Tyner is so big and his muscles are really well developed, maybe even overdeveloped, that it leads to continual problems and injuries.
"It is his only drawback as a prospect."
Four games into his senior season, Tyner has gained 1,484 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. He piled up 644 of those in one record-setting game. The mid-September affair, in which his team won 84-63 against Lake Oswego (Ore.) Lakeridge, was a signature moment that even impressed Tyner himself.
"I thought I only ran for 400," he recently told Rivals.com.
The yardage output was the third most all-time in the history of high school football. He also scored 10 touchdowns in the game, which is also good for third all-time.
With the game tied at 63 with just eight minutes left, Tyner's runs were not just to pad stats. His ability to get the tough yards in crunch time is something that Farrell was looking forward to seeing Tyner deliver.
"He had 38 carries that game and the team needed just about every one of them," Farrell said. "Is the competition level that he is going against the best around? No, far from it, but the pounding you take just carrying it that much takes a level of toughness and shows that he is fully healthy.
"If you had to run for 640 yards against 11 trees in your backyard it would be tough to do and showing he can break big runs and grind out tough yards was an important step."
The next step for Tyner is showing that he can do it on a regular basis and gaining his fifth star back. In a text message, Tyner said that he had a chip on his shoulder about losing the rankings and that he was going to keep going about his work to get it back. His head coach, Chris Casey, has no doubt that it will happen.
"He is the fastest guy I have ever coached," Casey said. "He doesn't just have game speed, he has it. He is a special player."
Tyner was the first player of the season to receive his U.S. Army All-American game jersey and, if healthy, he will be showcasing his talent in San Antonio this January. The opportunity to be on the biggest high school stage possible was not lost on Tyner.
"I see it as a huge opportunity to get a good head start to college," he told Rivals.com. "I know all those guys will be on the college level so it will give me a chance to compete against them and playing in the Alamodome, that's a dream. That should be a lot of fun."
Rivals.com recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said that Tyner will impress on a national stage as much as he had during in-person evaluations against lower-level competition.
"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."
As long as he is on the field to get his hands on the ball.
"That is the big thing," Farrell said. "And it is so far, so good."
BACKS ON RIGHT TRACK
Tyner is not the only featured running back to have missed significant time with lingering injuries. He is also not the only one showing that previous concerns can be put to rest.
Peyton Barber - Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton Barber, an Ole Miss, commit missed half of his junior season with a high ankle sprain but has bounced back fully healthy this season. In a Sept. 17 victory over Roswell (Ga.) Centennial, the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder accounted for 270 all-purpose yards and scored five touchdowns. The three-star back was recently ranked as the No. 77 overall player in Georgia and has Milton sitting at 3-1. With high-profile games against Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter and Marietta (Ga.) Walton still on the schedule, you can bet that more will be asked of Barber.
Chris Davis - Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain Three torn knee ligaments later and Chris Davis is back on the field for the Cardinals of Colerain. Prior to his injury, many expected Davis to be one of the Top 10 players in Ohio, but his rankings are stuck in the mid-30s of the state. His impact on the field, however, has not been marginalized with the injury. Against Pickerington (Ohio) Central, Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown in a season opening victory. Two weeks later, he scored on a 76-yard catch and run to push the team past Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier. Last week against Cincinnati (Ohio) Sycamore, Davis gained 82 yards on 10 carries and scored another crucial touchdown in a 28-21 victory.
Adam Lane - Winter Haven (Fla.) High After breaking his right fibula in practice, Lane missed his entire junior season of high school. The three-star Florida commit has come back fully healthy as a senior. Last weekend against Lakeland (Fla.) Kathleen, the bruising 5-foot-8, 216-pound Lane led his team to a 27-21 victory with 228 yards on 20 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Now healthy, he is ranked as the No. 24 running back in the nation.
Adam Taylor - Katy (Texas) High Taylor burst onto the scene with a 1,553-yard and 18 touchdown sophomore season, but he blew out his knee two carries into his junior year. The last time Katy was on the field, it was handing a quality Woodland (Texas) High team its worst loss in program history, and it was due, in large part, to Taylor. The four-star senior finished with 185 yards and five touchdowns on 24 carries. Taylor is ranked as a four-star prospect and with his injury replacement, Rodney Anderson, also playing significant minutes, the Katy program is a favorite for a Texas 5A-DII state title.
Altee Tenpenny - North Little Rock (Ark.) High After suffering a broken ankle in a scrimmage to start the year, Tenpenny missed his entire junior year. Now, the Alabama-bound four-star is back and healthy as a senior. In the teams Sept. 14 victory over Pine Bluff (Ark.) High, the explosive Tenpenny only needed the first half to make his mark as he ran for 153 yards on 16 carries and scored four touchdowns. North Little Rock was knocked out of the RivalsHigh 100 in a game against Longview (Texas) High, but Tenpenny still rushed for nearly 100 yards against the traditional Texas power and his team remains a favorite for a state finals appearance in Arkansas with him back on the field.