The Jacksonville Jaguars’ long snapper lost that anonymity nearly three years ago when a tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, Ala., killing girlfriend Ashley Harrison and putting him on a hard road to physical and emotional recovery.
As an Alabama football player, Tinker became one of the faces of a vicious storm that left dozens dead in Tuscaloosa alone.
He has since shared his experience with youth groups and churches and written a newly released book — “A Season To Remember: Faith in the Midst of the Storm.” Tinker always tries to keep the message the same: It’s not about what he went through, but how he’s emerged and with renewed faith.
“I don’t want anybody to ever think that I’m trying to tell my sob story to people,” Tinker said Friday while eating lunch at a deli in suburban Birmingham. “Nobody wants to hear anybody’s sob story and I don’t want people to think that I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to take people to what I thought was the darkest point of my life and show how God got me to where I am now. I’m hoping that people can be encouraged by that.”
That darkest point for Tinker and others in the college town came on April 27, 2011. Tinker held Harrison tight while they huddled with his two roommates and two dogs in a bedroom closet.
“We heard the house cracking and coming apart, windows crashing, walls tumbling,” he wrote. “Then, just like that, the roof was ripped off right over our heads, and the darkness of the closet was suddenly flooded with gray, rainy daylight. I could feel us being picked up. It was like having one of those dreams where you’re falling, except just the opposite. Falling up. I held on to Ashley with all my might as we were sucked out of the house.
“The next thing I remember is standing some 75 yards away, across the street in the field, screaming Ashley’s name. Exactly what happened in between or how much time had passed I’ll never really know.”
Tinker sustained a concussion, injured his snapping wrist and was left with a wound on his right ankle that required rehabilitation and ultimately a skin graft performed in the locker room after a game.
He was also left with a platform few long snappers ever get to share his faith and his story, including his parents’ battles with cancer during his youth.
Tinker is donating proceeds from book sales to his foundation “Be a Blessing.” He cites Bible verses without pause throughout an interview while skipping the high-carbs portion of his plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
He said writing about the aftermath of the tornado and about Harrison was painful. It was equally emotional for his mother, Debbie, to read. Like her son, she focuses on the positives of the here and now.
“If he were not my son, he would (still) be one of my very favorite people in the whole world,” Debbie Tinker said. “He’s an awesome individual, and I don’t say that as a mom. I am biased but he truly has a heart for God and for helping other people, and I believe that came from the adversity he has experienced in his life.”
Tinker wonders if that’s partly why fans connected with him, beyond being able to relate because they’ve seen his story or lost a loved one of their own. He didn’t need a bad snap to get noticed.
“If I’m doing my job, nobody’s ever heard of me,” Tinker said. “If nobody’s ever heard of me that means I’m doing my job, and I was completely fine with that. But it’s just really cool how God has used me. Maybe people feel like they can’t connect with like (former Alabama teammates) Mark Ingram or Julio Jones, but I’m just an average guy. I’m not that athletic. I can just throw a ball between my legs.
“Maybe people feel like they can connect with me more, which I think is pretty cool. I’m just an average guy. I’m nobody special.”