Fast becoming a star

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

Tony Tompkins is fast becoming one of the CFL's rising stars.

The 22-year-old return specialist continues to wreak havoc on opponents by turning third-down punts into six points for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Tompkins returned a punt 96 yards for a touchdown against the Ottawa Renegades in the nation's capital last week.

The feat helped power Edmonton to victory and earned the diminutive Texan CFL special teams player of the week honours for the second consecutive week.

Tompkins, the CFL's leading return man, has returned two punts for majors in his first three professional games.

Were it not for an illegal block, Tompkins would have returned another one for a major against Winnipeg in Week 4.

As it stands, two punt returns for TDs in his first three CFL games and back-to-back honours is nothing to sneeze at.

"We've been doing a real great job," smiled Tompkins yesterday. "The guys really enjoy blocking for me. I attribute all my success to them."

A product of Stephen F. Austin college, Tompkins's aim was to succeed when he signed up to play three-down football.

But the five-foot-eight, 165-pound Tompkins never imagined he'd be as wildly effective as he has been thus far.

A LOT OF FUN

"I thought I would have a lot of success but not to this degree," said Tompkins, who sat idle waiting for his turn as Keyuo Craver handled the return duties for the Esks in weeks 1 and 2. "I just want to go out each week and do the same thing. I'm having a lot of fun out there. I can't let go of it."

Success, however, can be fleeting and being a return whiz can be something of a double-edged sword.

It's only a matter of time before opponents begin kicking the ball away from Tompkins on kickoffs or hoofing it out of bounds on punts. Esks punter Sean Fleming is a master of directional kicking and routinely boots the ball out of bounds when the always-dangerous Ezra Landry and Keith Stokes are looking to get their hands on the ball.

"Obviously, people are watching film," offered rookie Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia. "As a coaching staff they're going to sit down and ask what they want to do.

NOT A HUGE SURPRISE

"They're going to ask themselves: Do we challenge our cover team to go down and tackle him or do we start directional kicking? We do the same, so it's not like it would come as a huge surprise to me if they decided to do so."

With a whopping 540 yards on 20 punt returns and 137 more yards on kickoffs, Tompkins is stunned to think he might become a victim of his own success.

"I don't want to have that," he said. "I'd like to continue to keep getting balls each game and making plays.

"They'd be showing the special teams a lot of respect by doing that and I guess it would keep getting us field position."

Naturally, the rest of the Green and Gold special teamers would be suitably disappointed if the opposition elected to keep the ball away from Tompkins.

"Every return last week seemed like a big one," said Mike Maurer, who along with the other 11 special teamers gets a rush out of blocking for Tompkins.

"We definitely had the advantage in field position and Tony is a big part of that. As long as we all do our jobs, Tony is probably going to take a couple more to the house."

Still, there's more than one way to skin a cat. And the special teams coaches and players are prepared to cook up a scheme to ensure Tompkins continues to get the ball.

"We can do some things so that they can't kick the ball out of bounds," Maurer vowed.

"We'd just play around with it and try and get the ball in his hands as often as possible."


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