KANSAS CITY — Tony Temple’s perfect world isn’t hard to find.
Instead of all of the interviews, photo shoots and unrealistic expectations, Temple pictures a football field. The field is his escape, 100 yards of green solitude with freshly painted white lines.
He straps on his helmet and pads and the hyperbole disappears. Silence is all that remains as Temple takes the ball and focuses on a single destination, the end zone.
For one of the most ballyhooed players in Kansas City high school football history, every day brings more noise. There is no talking or yelling, only noise. He hears it and tries to block it out, but it keeps pounding away, driving him to ignore it and focus on what he does best.
Make no mistake; Temple is good enough to do many of the things people expect him to do. ESPN.com’s Tom Lemming ranks him the No. 2 tailback in the nation. He has the speed to run away from any defender and the moves to make the best tackler look foolish.
More than his football ability, though, Temple wants to people to know him as a good person. As people glance at him and see what he likes to call a “dumb jock,” Temple moves forward confidently, hoping to change everyone’s perception. Temple also carries all of the intangibles of a star; he is competitive, driven, focused.
He refuses to let the hype or an opponent stop him. He thrives on the pressure, hoping he will get the chance to prove the naysayers wrong.
“People have a lot of different attitudes about different things, but my model is based on this,” Temple said. “I want to be successful, and you can’t stop me. I won’t let you stop me.”
When a player of Temple’s ability begins to get the recognition he did, his recruitment goes from a heated competition to a glorified circus. When Temple signs his name to a letter of intent today, the first day recruits can sign, it will end years of speculation.
His career on the field was successful to say the least. Temple is Rockhurst’s all-time rushing leader, finishing with 5,319 yards and 79 touchdowns.
The road to the University of Missouri for Temple hasn’t been easy. Every day for the past four years, he faced rising pressure to meet the goals everyone else had set for him.
Each season the expectations mounted and Temple began to believe in the hype. After his dominant junior season, the buildup hit unrealistic heights. Some said he would run for 2,500 yards and others claimed “Touchdown Tony” would rack up 50 touchdowns.
“There were expectations there that Walter Payton couldn’t have met,” Rockhurst coach Tony Severino said.
Those goals were not Temple’s, but he says he started to believe he could match the goals everyone else set. Not only did he think he could match them, but he also felt as if he needed to match them, which was a recipe for letdown.
Temple’s career began innocently enough. As a freshman, Temple told Severino he would play his rookie season.
Severino laughed at the thought of a freshman getting immediate playing time in his powerhouse program, but the precocious Temple proved he belonged. Temple became the first freshman to play on the varsity at Rockhurst in Severino’s 21-year tenure.
Temple had the kind of raw ability that made him a threat to score from anywhere. On his first carry, Temple scored and so began the legend of “Touchdown Tony.”
“When you gave him the ball and pointed him in the right direction, he could do things a lot of running backs couldn’t do,” Severino said. “We taught him six plays because he couldn’t handle anymore, but when he was in the game you knew he was going to get the ball.
“He had the ability to take it the distance any time he touched it.”
The Kansas City media began to feed the hype, routinely putting Temple on the front page of the sports section and hailing him as one of the greatest players to come out of Kansas City.
The numbers were gaudy: 1,105 yards and 18 touchdowns, but with success came instant celebrity, something Temple and most kids his age are not equipped to handle.
“If I had to do it over, I still would have brought him up,” Severino said. “It would have been a waste to let him dominate on the freshman team. Knowing what I know today, nobody would even be close to him. I wouldn’t let anyone near him.
“I didn’t know Tony well enough to know if he could handle it. I don’t know if any freshman could handle it.”
Temple is one of the first to say he bought into his hype, never stopping to think about the consequences. As the spotlight grew brighter, Temple continued to shine and rarely shied away from a television appearance or an interview.
Everyone in Kansas City wanted a piece of the budding star. He didn’t say no to anyone, trying to be the rare athlete who could be a star on the field and handle all of the attention that went with it off the field.
“I started to realize that I guess this is a big deal,” Temple said. “I was signing autographs and doing all these things. Everything was magnified with me.”
Heading into his sophomore season, Temple had expectations that few would be able to handle. He did his best to meet them, but it became nearly impossible to appease everyone.
For the first time in his years of playing football, he started playing in kindergarten, Temple’s team lost. Temple had never experienced losing before, and the feeling was not one he liked.
To go with the pain of the loss, Temple dislocated his right shoulder. He wasn’t sure what to do.
“That was the first time I had to face adversity,” Temple said. “A lot of people started saying I was all hype right then. That was when I started to realize that maybe everything wasn’t so peachy.”
Temple immediately went to work on rehabilitating, but the hype continued to build. Some people criticized him for not playing through the pain and others began to call him soft. He finished with 1,205 yards rushing and his first scholarship offer, from Missouri.
THE LEGEND GROWS
As his junior year approached, the hype became so loud that Temple had no choice but to hear it. He worked out every day and was in the best shape of his life.
He was bench-pressing 300 pounds and running the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, numbers that many NFL players aspire to.
This time, Temple not only heard the hype; he lived up to it. He led the Hawklets to a state championship, posting numbers that are usually reserved for video games. He ended the season with 2,034 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns.
With the great success of the season came the great responsibility of dealing with the recruiting crush. Every college program, recruiting analyst and reporter wanted a piece of Temple.
Severino estimates that about 30 or 40 of the nation’s best teams offered him a scholarship that season.
“He deserved everything he got junior year,” Severino said. “He was awful good.”
Not everything was perfect for Temple during his junior season. He played great and his team won, but injuries and overexposure continued to haunt him.
He tore the meniscus in his right knee during his junior year and tried to make sure nobody knew about it. The injury set him back, but he was determined to play and finish his senior season the way he finished his junior year.
The season started how Temple envisioned it. He vowed to have 1,000 yards after four games and seemed well on his way after a season-opening 249 yards against Blue Springs South.
Temple was running like the back he was, but it all changed in the second game. He broke off the edge and blocked a punt against Blue Springs, landing squarely on his left shoulder as he crashed to the grass.
It was another blow for Temple, a dislocated left shoulder and a right hamstring injury that would limit him for the rest of the season. He finished with 975 yards and nine touchdowns, numbers he expected to have after three games, not a season.
LEARNING ABOUT LIFE
Physically, Temple was hurt, but nothing would compare with what came after the injury.
Sure, most teams wanted to hit Temple and knock him down, but it wasn’t a defender who put Temple through one of the toughest times in his life.
The media continued to hound Temple. The same group that had sold papers and drawn ratings from Temple’s talent turned on him.
Temple tried to deal with it, but an article published in the Kansas City Star on Sept. 21 went a step beyond anything Temple had dealt with.
The story explored intimate details of Temple’s personal life. One part of the story mentioned an unknown MU booster offering Temple money.
“That article was maybe the backbreaker,” Severino said. “You start getting into a young man’s personal life and he hasn’t even graduated from high school.
“It made him out to be something he really isn’t. Would I have allowed that again? No. It was supposed to be a recruiting story.”
Temple spent a lot of time with Severino and his family, trying to cope with something that showed him in a light he had never flashed.
“I worked hard for four years to try to keep my reputation with a clean slate,” Temple said. “I’m not out selling drugs or stealing or beating people up. They tried to find every little thing to make a big deal.
“I felt used.”
Temple went into a shell, hiding from the media and spending a lot of time with the people he cares about most.
He played PlayStation 2 with his little brother, Drew. More often than not, he prayed for guidance and answers.
He spent a lot of time with Steve Redmond, his cousin, best friend and fellow Missouri recruit.
“I am there for Tony for whatever he needs,” Redmond said. “I’m letting him know that he needs to keep his head up. It would hurt me if he fell down and I didn’t help him up.”
A FRESH START
Temple announced his decision Jan. 5 in front of a television audience on Metro Sports. Sitting in front of five hats, he picked up the Missouri hat and put it on, choosing the Tigers over his other finalist, Kansas State.
Temple changed his mind many times during the recruiting process, but his official visit to MU changed his mind.
“I came to MU on my visit knowing I was going to K-State,” Temple said. “I changed my mind so many times, but I did what was best for me.”
With the signing of his letter of intent, Temple will receive a chance to start anew. The expectations will be there, but he won’t need to be the savior of the program.
Temple is ready to put the bad things behind him and start on a future that at one time seemed so bright.
“It’s another growing process,” Temple said. “For four years, people made my decisions for me. I was so young and naïve that I listened without saying anything.
“Now I am making decisions, I am growing up. All of that adversity helped me make those decisions and I am surrounding myself with good people.”
Temple has goals for his first year at Missouri. He knows he might redshirt, but he wants to play. Severino said Temple needs the redshirt for many reasons and most of them aren’t football related.
“Nobody wants him to make it more than I do,” Severino said. “You can put the blame on a lot of people, but eventually you have to take ownership for yourself and that’s what I am hoping he can get.”
Temple has work to do if he wants to qualify at Missouri. The injuries and hype set him back academically. Dealing with the pressure and taking phone calls had a negative impact on his grades, making his final semester an important one for him to qualify.
He will probably need to have surgery on his left shoulder before he arrives at MU, and rehabilitation will follow.
Temple has interest in real estate and said he hopes to pursue that as a major at MU. He knows football might not be around forever, but he hopes he can have success in whatever he chooses to pursue.
Severino and Temple don’t talk as much as they used to. Temple says it is because Severino is trying to get him used to not having his coach and family around.
Severino doesn’t have any set expectations for Temple at Missouri; all he wants is an invitation to Temple’s graduation.
As Temple embarks on the next part of his life and career, he wants the world to know that he only cares what the people he loves most in the world say about him.
“I am a kid; I am going to make mistakes and do dumb things, but I am going to do them and I am going to learn from them,” Temple said. “There is something about someone saying they are going to stop me that puts me in a whole different world.
“I’m going to make it.”