Tim Holt was not particularly impressed the first time he sized up Ryan Tannehill.
Holt had just taken over as the varsity high school coach at Big Spring, a small West Texas oil town, and didn’t think anyone on his roster was particularly gifted — Tannehill, a rising junior, included.
“Ryan kind of looked like a stiff, white kid,” Holt said.
All it took was one plyometric workout session — exercises designed to produce fast and powerful movements — to show Holt just how wrong he was.
Holt had his players “bound” — think of it as cross between jogging and skipping — and when Tannehill took his turn, he seemed to defy gravity.
“He could bound like a deer,” Holt said. “He just hung in the air. The more that you watch him do, the more impressive he is.”
Seven years later, that athletically freakish, often underestimated kid is about to take his biggest leap yet. Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, is set to become the first rookie quarterback to start a season opener in Dolphins history Sunday when Miami visits the Texans.
Eight hours of highway driving separate Houston’s NFL coliseum and Big Spring’s Memorial Stadium, where Tannehill once starred and his younger brother Tobyn now plays under the Friday night lights.
The cross-state trek tracks his unlikely journey, which began as the quarterback at a middle-of-nowhere high school running an offense out of the 1950s. The path continues through Central Texas’ hills past Texas A&M, where his collegiate coronation (not to mention gratification) was delayed. And it arrives Sunday in Houston, where the curtain rises on his NFL career, with Tannehill as the leading man. His role: franchise savior.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Tannehill said this week. “Kind of nonstop. I’m really excited by the position and the opportunity that I have, but now it’s just about taking advantage of it.
“This is not the end of the road.”
Home, sweet home
Surely not. But we know where that road began — Big Spring, a town of roughly 25,000 people around 40 miles east of Midland. The boom-or-bust energy town surrounded by ranchland has a replica Statue of Liberty outside its municipal auditorium. The similarities to New York — or any other major city, for that matter — end there.
Not much grows on the area’s arid soil, but the terrain is fertile ground for football talent. Kicker Tony Franklin — a one-time Dolphin — is among the town’s more famous folks. Former longtime Packers tight end Bubba Franks is another.
Tannehill’s father, Tim, played for Texas Tech in the mid-1980s. His mother, Cheryl, is a Tech alumnus, as well. They chose to raise a family in Big Spring, where Dad eventually became a middle school principal, and Mom a teacher.
Big Spring football was pretty awful Tannehill’s first two years of high school. But that began to change when Holt took over, and Tannehill emerged as a unique talent.
Today, Tannehill’s high school exploits are the stuff of Big Spring folklore. He played quarterback, safety and special teams — once uncorking an 84-yard punt. He also lettered in basketball, baseball, golf and track — running hurdles, appropriately enough.