Most area football fans recall Tyrone Timmons as a quarterback during his prep days at Tampa Bay Tech. Back then, Timmons was a gangly signal caller who never seemed completely comfortable in the pocket.
"I was slow and lanky," Timmons said recently. "That's how people around here probably remember me."
Fast forward a few years and local fans have another chance to see just how far Timmons has come. Timmons will be one of the featured targets this year at wide receiver as the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm resume play tonight in an exhibition game against the Orlando Predators at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"For people who haven't seen me in a while, I think they might be a little surprised," Timmons said"
Timmons, who also played youth football in Brandon, made the transition from quarterback to wideout when he attended Mississippi Valley State. He worked hard on his hands, speed and technique over the next four years, including getting instruction from the school's most famous alum, NFL great Jerry Rice.
"I got a chance to pick his brain and do some route running when he came back to visit," Timmons said. "That was pretty special."
Timmons also worked with former Florida State receiver E.G. Green during the summers, honing the skills of his new position. After failing to get picked up by the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs out of college in 2007, Timmons' agent convinced him to give the AFL a chance while staying in shape for another possible shot at the NFL.
"I knew about the arena league and the Storm," he said. "But I didn't know much about the game itself."
Timmons signed a two-day waiver contract with the Storm in 2008 but impressed coaches so much that he remained on the practice squad for 12 weeks before seeing game action.
"I was inactive for those first 12 games," Timmons said. "But I just kept working and working and waiting for a shot."
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All he did from that point on was win team Rookie of the Year honors.
"I caught three touchdowns in my first game, three in my second and three more in my third," Timmons said. "It was like a dream."
Timmons amassed 23 catches for 267 yards and 13 touchdowns in just five games that year. He earned player of the game honors against Cleveland in his debut, hauling in seven passes for 69 yards and three scores. In Timmons' brief time with the Storm, he became just the sixth player in AFL history to record nine touchdowns in his first three games.
"Two years ago Tyrone was a young, big, local receiver that we wanted to give a shot," Storm coach Tim Marcum said.
Timmons seemed to have found a place to nest near his old home when, just prior to the 2009 season, the AFL folded.
"That year," Timmons said. "Was a really bad year for me."
Timmons went from an overnight sensation to unemployed. He tried the Indoor Football League, Canadian Football League and the United Football League but didn't latch on. On top of that, Timmons became a father in August 2009 and suddenly his dream of chasing professional football took a backseat to his baby daughter.
"I needed to be able to provide for her and have insurance and all those things," Timmons said. "Then I heard rumors the (AFL) was coming back."
Those rumors proved to be true. Timmons couldn't be happier, preparing for his first full season and playing in his hometown.
"Most of my friends and family didn't get a chance to see me play wide receiver when I was up in Mississippi," Timmons said. "And I only played a few games (in 2008) so I'm real excited to get out there and perform again."
And after he made such a splash in his brief rookie campaign, Timmons has to meet the Storm's high expectations. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he causes mismatch problems for nearly any defensive back in the league.
"When you look at his last four games of the previous season, Tyrone was a serious threat on the goal-line," Marcum said. "He is a big receiver with big hands and very good in the corners. We need him to play "Tall Ball."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.