Making a big statement

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

The smallest Edmonton Eskimo is making a huge statement this season.

Tiny Tony Tompkins leads the CFL in punt-return touchdowns with just three games remaining in the regular season. The five-foot-eight, 165-pound speedster also delivered one of the biggest plays - if not the biggest - of the year by returning a kickoff for a touchdown against the B.C. Lions last month.

In the process of an outstanding season, the 22-year-old Texas native has made three things crystal clear:

A) Every time he's called-out in the newspaper by an opposing player, essentially being slapped in the face in public, Tompkins promptly makes the opposition look foolish.

B) He's a legitimate candidate to be the West Division nominee for Rookie of the Year.

C) He's part of an outstanding trio in the running for Special Teams Player of the Year.

"He has been a back-breaker for opposing teams," said veteran Ed Hervey.

"And he has given us that momentum that we needed at times."

A prime example came in the fourth quarter against the Lions. With the score tied at 20 and momentum residing on the Lions' bench, Tompkins changed the game and maybe the Eskimos' season with an 86-year kickoff return for the winning touchdown.

In a very tight West Division, every play and every victory counts.

Another example came Monday in Toronto, when Tompkins delivered his third punt return touchdown of the year.

With that dazzling effort, he is just two shy of tying Gizmo Williams for the single-season CFL record for most punt return majors.

But even if he doesn't equal or set that mark, Tompkins can set a CFL rookie record with just one more TD punt return.

And if Tompkins delivers another kickoff to the end zone, he will also become the most successful rookie ever in that category.

"He's an intelligent young man. So, he does a good job studying the opposing punter and getting a good jump and read on his kicks," said assistant coach Malvin Hunter, who oversees the special teams unit.

"He is fearless.

"And he has great top-end speed. You are not going to catch him once he gets in front of you."

The Eskimos' win against Toronto came 24 hours after Argo Bashir Levingston emphatically stated he is the best returner in the league.

Before the B.C. tilt, Carl Kidd said his club would take Tompkins out of the game.

In both cases, Tompkins answered the bell in style providing critical points.

But he doesn't put himself ahead of his blockers.

"Our return team take a lot of pride in returning the ball and if they hear something like that (i.e.: Levingston and Kidd talking) it makes them want to go out and work even harder," explained Tompkins.

His humble nature isn't a surprise. Tompkins is one of the quietest members of the Eskimo locker-room.

"He'd prefer if you didn't even know his name," explained Hunter, "and never said anything to him."

It is much too late for that. Tompkins has definitely made a big name for himself.


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