Tomlinson has run in mind

Navy wide receiver can block, catch with best, but dreams revolve around punt return

College Football

October 14, 2005|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

Jason Tomlinson is considered the consummate team player, but he has one strong personal goal: He longs to be the first Navy player to return a kick for a touchdown during the coaching era of Paul Johnson.

Nothing selfish about that, not for a talented receiver who, "if you ask him to block 40 plays in a row, he blocks," said Johnson.

That can happen frequently in the triple-option offense, where the priority is the running game and wide receivers jokingly refer to themselves as "wide blockers."

But when Tomlinson gets his opportunity to step into the limelight, he usually stars. In the amazing, come-from-behind, 27-24 victory over Air Force on Saturday, the junior from Arlington, Texas, recorded a breakout performance in the passing game with four receptions for a career-high 114 yards, including a career-best 61-yard touchdown.

However, his special yearning involves a punt runback to the end zone.

"That's what I really want to do," said Tomlinson. "I don't want to leave here without breaking one. I've just got to do it before I'm gone."

Don't bet against it. The 6-foot-1, 193-pounder is perhaps the most athletic of all the Mids, blessed with good speed, sure hands and a long stride. To further employ his abilities, Johnson uses him as a ball carrier on reverses. He has carried twice on such plays this season for an average gain of 20.5 yards.

"He was talented when he came and has worked to get better," Johnson said. "He's as good as we get here."

Tomlinson was apparently headed for Stanford out of Kennedale High School, where he was a teammate of Landon Johnson, a linebacker at the California school. "That's where I was planning to go," he said.

But Stanford stalled about offering him a scholarship and Navy's representatives had always been in the picture, although "the military didn't appeal to me much."

Assistant coach Todd Spencer kept at it and Tomlinson finally changed his mind. For a chance to play Division I-A football, he signed late to attend the academy.

"Their school had an excellent program, but they ran a wing-T [offense] and didn't throw much," said Spencer. "It was a relatively small school for Texas and not in the teeth of the recruiting radar. Jason was underrecruited. No doubt we found a diamond in the rough."

Tomlinson has developed into the team's leading receiver. He led the team with 16 catches last season and is on a pace to nearly double that total this fall with the Mids passing slightly more often.

"He is far and away our best receiver," said Johnson.

"Jason is just gifted," added receivers coach Brian Bohannon. "He can run and catch and make people miss. He's our best blocker [among the receivers]. A lot of people can't do all those things well. But the most impressive thing is how hard he works. He's always trying to get better and wants to be good at everything. He could have played at a lot of places."

"I did a lot of blocking in high school, so I was used to it," Tomlinson said modestly. "If it helps the team, that's what I'll do. Receivers all like to get the ball, but I'm not worried about that. I know Coach Johnson is going to do what it takes to win."

Tomlinson said he has adapted to the military lifestyle.

"It didn't seem as bad once I got here and knew I'd be playing football," he said. "I'm a little more into it now."

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Kent State@Navy Tomorrow, 1:30 p.m., 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 13

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