Following the 2006 season, Big Spring Steers starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the 630th-ranked player in his recruiting class. He was moved to wide receiver in his redshirt freshman season at Texas A&M after finishing third in a starting quarterback position battle behind two players who combined to start one game in the National Football League. He was the third quarterback drafted in the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and was traded away after seven seasons and over 20,000 passing yards.
What do all of those things have in common?
None of them matter to the current Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback, his courteous and humble parents, or the Big Spring community.
“I think he knows having these small-town roots is very beneficial where you have the support you have from our community,” Tannehill’s mother Cheryl said.
Tannehill passed for over 5,000 yards in his senior season at Big Spring High School. The local legend went on to break the Texas A&M school record for passing yards in a game and season. He also finished one touchdown short of a tie for career passing touchdowns in only 20 games as the starter. In a loaded first round that included first overall pick Andrew Luck and Heisman-winner Robert Griffin III, Tannehill is the only starting quarterback remaining of the trio. In an NFL playoffs that featured two other quarterbacks from his draft class, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson, the former Steer is the last one standing.
The Tennessee Titans began the 2019 season 2-4 behind the second overall pick and former Heisman Trophy-winner Marcus Mariota. After the less-than-impressive start to the season, Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel knew he needed to make a move to kickstart an offense that was averaging only 16.3 points per game through that six-game stretch.
“Just felt like now was the time,” Vrabel said to ESPN following his decision to make Tannehill the starter following his fill-in performance against the Buffalo Bills in Week 6. “Sitting at that game, sitting where I was, made the decision during the game and then just was able to think about it, evaluate it, and move forward and make a decision to try to spark the offense, to try to do something to get us going, to score some points and to help us win.”
Tannehill has answered the call.
“One thing his dad has always said is ‘You may not have that position right now, so you need to work hard so that if you get an opportunity, you can be successful at it,’” Cheryl Tannehill said. “I think that’s just his mindset is ‘I want to be ready when I get the opportunity.’”
Tim Tannehill, Ryan’s father, added, “He takes care of his body, he stays committed to what his goals are and works through those issues. He stays positive and that’s worked out for him.”
Since taking over the starting job, the Titans have gone 9-3 while averaging 29.3 points per game. Tannehill led the NFL in multiple categories such as passer rating (117.5), yards per attempt (9.6) and yards per completion (13.6) while passing for 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Tennessee seems to collectively be playing with more confidence and swagger than they had been with Mariota under center and are participating in their first AFC Championship Game in exactly 17 years.
“Over the past three weeks, name a better team,” NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson said following the Titans 28-12 dismantling of the No. 1-seed Baltimore Ravens last Saturday night.
Chances are you cannot.
Current Oklahoma State defensive analyst Bill Clay was in charge of recruiting Fort Worth and West Texas during his time as safeties coach at Texas A&M from 2006-07. On one trip to watch the Big Spring Steers play, a certain tall, versatile player and his athletic family stood out to the recruiter with a college coaching resume that goes as far back as the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“When I was out in West Texas looking for prospects, he was one of the first guys I went to,” Clay said. “He fit the physical profile that I was looking for and that we were looking for at A&M. He was a big, tall kid that could run. And then when I went to the high school and met his dad and saw his mom, who were both athletic-looking people, I thought I struck gold right then. When I saw both parents and I saw him, looking at him face-to-face, I saw what a great family they are. And what a great kid he was.”
Clay’s move to take a chance on a small-town quarterback seems to have paid off for everyone involved.
Tannehill has been a “diamond in the rough” and has continued to progress at every level he has played at. He is currently one win away from being just the third different AFC quarterback to start a Super Bowl since 2014 (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning).
“You always want your kid to be successful in whatever endeavor they go into,” Tim Tannehill said. “As a high school quarterback, you’re just thinking that he may be able to compete at the college level. Just through his size, his abilities, his skills, his mentality, his work ethic. And then that came to fruition in his junior year. And then in through his junior year and senior year there at A&M, he started having some success. He was starting to get some publicity and then he started getting some interest from some of the media. That kind of prompted him to be drafted as high as he was there (8th overall) in the 2012 NFL Draft... We were just hoping that he was successful in whatever he decided to do and everything just came to fruition.”
In the Tennessee Titans’ only Super Bowl appearance, they fell one-yard short to the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams. Those Rams were led by a first-year starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer in Kurt Warner who was fresh off being named NFL MVP. Warner was known for his rocket arm, ability to improvise, and his great weapons at wide receiver. The Titans were led by a strong rushing attack with Eddie George, young wide receivers, and a quarterback in Steve McNair who was known for getting the job done.
Super Bowl XXXIV and this weekend’s AFC Championship Game have eerily similar offensive styles.
Patrick Mahomes is an MVP-winning quarterback in his second full season as a starter. The Texas Tech alum has an arsenal of game-breaking wide receivers who can take the top off of the defense on any given play.
This season, Tannehill has become a play-action specialist with extreme accuracy and poise in the pocket. His receiving corps is filled with young receivers, led by rookie A.J. Brown, that are precise route runners with reliable hands. The Titans’ running game is led by NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, an athletic behemoth capable of crushing a team’s spirit with one devastating run through the heart of the defense.
“It’s all about team,” Tim Tannehill said. “We know the importance of every position on that field, all three phases of that game, it’s all about team. Those guys are clicking at the same level in all aspects of the game. Derrick Henry has been a tremendous workhorse for their offense and their scheme that they’re in, and Ryan is a part of that scheme. Whatever plays he can make, and benefit their team, then that’s what he’s going to do.”
When the game kicks off on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, the entire community of Big Spring will be behind their former Steer star quarterback. In the midst of a storybook season, Tannehill and the Titans will need to put together one more impressive all-around team performance to take their place in Super Bowl LIII.
With Tannehill leading the charge this time around, do not expect the Titans to fall one-yard short.
Shawn Moran is the sports editor at the Big Spring Herald. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 432-263-7331.