Don't call his impact 'Tiny'

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Gizmo Williams will be in the stands. Pinball Clemons will be in front of the Toronto Argos bench. And Tiny Tompkins is hoping to put on a show as maybe the next Gizmo guy, the next Pinball wizard in the league invented for pint-sized return men.

Not for The Giz or Pinball.

For his mom Tangela.

"She's coming up for this game," said Tompkins.

"This game is going to be real special for me. I just hope I can perform the way I have these last few weeks. It's my mom's first time out of the U.S.A. and I hope I have a game to make her proud of me."

His mom's name, Tangela, is tattooed on his tummy. The name of his late grandmother, Ethel, is tattooed on his back along with a cross.

"Every time I make a play, it's for them. They are the two people in my life most close to me," says Tiny Tompkins.

Actually, by his square name he's Tony Tompkins. And if he keeps going the way he's going maybe he'll need a more Gizmo-like or Pinball-like nickname.

No question, however, that Tompkins is making a name in the Canadian Football League so far this year. Which isn't bad for a guy who didn't make the opening day lineup out of training camp.

The 22-year-old didn't manage to show much in the pre-season.

"I wasn't very comfortable at the start," said Tompkins, admitting the size of the Canadian field and the rules of the Canadian game overwhelmed him. Slipping on the grass as often as not and having the ball slip out of his hands way too often, head coach Danny Maciocia couldn't justify picking the player to take into the season. Maciocia went with Keyuo Craver for Games One and Two instead.

With Craver failing to deliver results, Maciocia decided to take another look at Tompkins.

"In fairness to Tony, he was typical of a lot of guys coming to the CFL from down south. When you first get to this league, you really don't know what to expect with the wider and longer field, with 12 men out there and unlimited motion. Especially in his case. He gets here with his talents and tells himself 'Compared to this I've been playing in a phone booth all my life!' To a guy like Tony, there's so much real estate out there ...

"But he struggled. It was more an adaptation period than anything. There wasn't any question about his skills. We knew what he had to offer. It was just a question of him feeling comfortable. He had to go out there and live it. Now he's one of the premier punt returners in the league."

Maciocia said it wasn't even that he didn't show it in the pre-season

"In our pre-season game in Winnipeg, he picked up 20 yards with hardly any blocking, on his own. He made three or four guys miss. We knew for sure right then that he had it in him. But we also knew we were a bit away from co-ordinating the whole thing with his comfort level and following his blocking.

"You could see Tony start to get a pretty good feel for the game once he made it into the lineup and started to have some success," added the rookie head coach.

"He's also a kid. We're not dealing with a veteran here. But what a great kid. I call him Tony The Tiger."

Maciocia isn't going to put Gizmo or Pinball comparisons on him.

"Those guys are big names. Legends.

"I think Tompkins has the potential to dominate for years to come. He's shown glimpses of being a special player.

"Hopefully he won't settle for being a return guy. Can you imagine if he could get comfortable as a receiver? Can you imagine what he could do after he gets the ball? Watching him run after he catches it would be pretty interesting. We're going to try get him in there. He's a work in progress."

At an alleged 5'8" and 165-pounds, Tiny Tony The Tiger Tompkins has turned out to be a huge part of the Eskimos getting out of the gate at 5-2 going into Saturday's game against the Toronto Argos at Commonwealth Stadium. Fans have taken to him like they did to Gizmo Williams way back when.

While he was a late bloomer in training camp terms, Tompkins has exploded out of the gate in his CFL career after working his way into the lineup for his first game.

Tompkins was named Rogers CFL Player of the Week twice, on back-to-back weeks, and the Rogers CFL Special Teams Player of the Month for July.

"I'm comfortable now," he says.

Tompkins' first Player of the Week honour resulted from a 57-yard kickoff return and 142 yards in punt returns (eight for an average of 17.5) including an 80-yard job to open the second quarter. Tiny's big game made a huge difference as the Eskimos eked out a 14-12 win in front of the home fans at Commonwealth Stadium.

Six days later in Ottawa, Tompkins took a trip of 96-yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of a 29-21 win over the Renegades.

At the same time Edmonton fans were lamenting the loss of Itty Bitty Ezra Landry who electrified the league last year and was playing a major role in beating the Eskimos that night with a 125-yard wide field goal return, the fourth largest in league history, and a 74-yard punt return.

While overshadowed by Landry, Tompkins took a fourth-quarter punt and ran unmolested for a 93-yard return.

He was magic.

Actually, 'Magic' was the nickname of the 22-year-old from Port Arthur, Texas product when he played with the Division 1-AA Steven F. Austin University Lumberjacks in the Southland Conference in Nacogdoches near the Louisiana border. He was used as a tailback, wide receiver and slotback at different times and stages of games, at first because they didn't think he'd survive the season with his size as a one-position player as a running back.

Tompkins, who came close to ending up as an Ottawa Renegade only to end up in Edmonton when Eric Tillman was fired as GM and didn't proceed as planned to put Tompkins on the negotiation list the second he became eligible, is enjoying being an Edmonton Eskimo.

"I'm just having a lot of fun. I just want to keep this going. We've been doing a real good job blocking on special teams. I just want to make sure I use the blocking for good returns every game."

Maciocia says it's not all about athleticism and instinct.

"One thing we really started to notice was how patient he is in setting up his blocks. It's a real payoff for the guys who are out there making the blocks for him."

Considering he's only played five of the seven games so far, Tiny has put up giant numbers.

Tompkins, so far this season, has returned 32 punts for 560 yards to lead the league by lots. He also had 10 kickoff returns for 248 yards and has brought back one missed field goal for 51 yards.

Were it not for an illegal block, Tompkins would have had another touchdown and another big number to add to the total from the game against Winnipeg in Week 4.

"I'd hoped to have a lot of success but I didn't expect to have so much so soon," said Tompkins.

"I wasn't happy with the way I did in training camp and the pre-season. I wasn't happy with the results. I knew I could do better. I felt I let myself down and didn't perform the way I could have.

"I just continued to practice and learn the game more. Everything was all new to me. I was just trying to get the hang of everything.

"When I first saw that field, I had a big smile on my face. There's so much room to move around. But I basically had problems fielding the ball, catching the ball. It's so different without the fair catch rule."

Then, suddenly, he's a star?

"I'm staying humble. It came really fast. I didn't think I'd come out and do what I did. I don't even know how much of it I did. The guys downfield really helped me. I've had great blocking."

Tompkins has been Little Big Man for the Eskimos so far. And he says that's been his life story.

"Right from the beginning, I was the smallest guy on the field. Right from the start, people didn't expect me to do well because of my size. I keep proving them wrong."

The beginning was Port Arthur, Texas playing football at age eight.

"I was the smallest guy then except the difference is now my jersey fits. For my first five years of playing football the jerseys looked like dresses. I didn't look much like an athlete at that age out there wearing dresses.

"But I really started loving football in high school. I started taking it a lot more seriously. I was a quarterback and a tailback."

We're talking Texas, here.

High school football in Texas is serious.

"There aren't too many places where you play before 13,000 people in high school.

"It was really crazy to be able to play in front of that many people. Texas is really a football state. I don't think there's anywhere high school is as big."

Everything in Texas is big. Except Tiny Tompkins. But he's making it big.


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