MOBILE — Carson Tinker is enjoying rockstar status these days.
Most football fans would never know Alabama’s long snapper, although the tragedy he suffered in a 2011 tornado put him on a national stage he would have much rather avoided.
Winning three national championships in his five-year career only added to the hype, making Tinker a celebrity in a state where college football tops the list of priorities for a lot of residents.
“Being in Mobile, it’s a lot better than being somewhere where there isn’t a big fan base,” he said. “But that’s kind of hard to find these days. Everybody is an Alabama fan. But there’s a good fan base here. They can watch practice and then come out and talk to us. It’s a lot of fun for us and a lot of fun for them, too.”
Tinker is one of four former Crimson Tide players participating in the Senior Bowl, along with linebacker Nico Johnson, defensive back Robert Lester and tight end Michael Williams. Offensive tackle D.J. Fluker arrived for the weigh-in earlier in the week and left and center Barrett Jones, who is injured, is expected to arrive today.
Fluker and Jones are expected to go in the first two rounds of the upcoming NFL draft, while Johnson and Lester are projected to go in the middle rounds of the draft. Williams is projected as a late-round draft pick. For Tinker, rated the top long snapper in the nation by NFLdraftscout.com, his best hope is to be signed as a free agent.
But after being invited to the Raycom College Football All-Star Classic in Montgomery last week, two all-star games in a two-week span certainly gives him the opportunity to show his ability.
“I’m very thankful for that,” Tinker said. “I think everybody that got invited to the Senior Bowl also got invited to the Raycom game, but I was the only one that did two. At the other positions, it’s really hard to go back to back because it’s an intense week. It’s not just like a game week in practice. You’ve got guys out here that have been training for five, six, seven weeks just for this week. As a snapper, I’m lucky that it’s not that taxing on my body.
“I feel like I have an advantage over some people because three weeks ago I was in (the BCS National Championship Game in) Miami. A lot of people haven’t played since November. I feel like my body is still in game shape.”
While the Raycom all-star game was an inaugural game that primarily drew a professional scout or two representing each team, the Senior Bowl puts players under intense scrutiny. Owned by the NFL, its practices are televised on the NFL Network and hundreds of NFL personnel are at practice every day in Ladd-Peeples Stadium, scrutinizing every move.
“I’d say it’s about the same,” Tinker said. “I know the Raycom game was really modeled after the Senior Bowl in what they did. There was great talent at the game last week but I think that’s the only difference. It’s a lot stronger, more physical, faster players here.”
He’s learned to live in the fish bowl. A former walk-on from Murfreesboro, Tenn., he was a redshirt freshman when the Tide traveled to California to play Texas in the BCS National Championship Game. He has started the last 40 games at Alabama and found himself the center of attention on April 27, 2011, when an EF4 tornado threw him from his house, injuring him and killing his girlfriend, Ashley Harrison.
He became an inspiration to Crimson Tide fans following the tragedy and was sought after as a motivational speaker following the incident. It’s no surprise that Tinker now speaks only of the positives and doesn’t concern himself with trying to do too much in practice this week to impress the scouts.
“I think of it as an opportunity to come out here and show what I can do,” he said. “I just focus on making good snaps and being the best football player I can be. I’ve done a few more things (this week). I was on kickoff (Tuesday), just coming out here and showing my athleticism and what kind of football I can play.”