Big fish in small pond stories are commonplace, especially in the high school football landscape. But what happens when that fish starts swimming at the college level?
Division I football scholarships are rare, particularly at Fernandina Beach High School on Amelia Island, Florida. However, Tahj Kimble, running back and special teams player for Boston College, broke that mold when he signed with the Eagles in 2010. Kimble was the first football player from his high school in a generation to go to and play for a Division I school.
The transition from being a high school senior to being a college freshman is a hard enough leap for any given person to make. When you factor in being a Division I college football player and a 20-degree average temperature difference to the mix, it makes that transition a little more difficult. He dealt with the same aspects in the sense of living on his own and providing for himself as any other college freshman.
Kimble said that not much of his off-the-field life style changed; it was on the field where he really saw a difference.
“I had to become a student of the game rather than just a player. There are so many things you have to know in the college game to be successful,” Kimble stated. “In high school, it was just ‘get the ball and run’. But now the game is faster, so you have to be able to know what the other team is doing before the play actually happens.”
Kimble was redshirted last year, and while he is currently the second-string running back, it has been special teams in particular where he has had the chance to shine this season.
After observing, strengthening himself, and learning the ropes in 2010, Kimble has improved upon the innate talent he showed off in high school. Boston College opened the season by hosting Northwestern, and Kimble started his college career by returning the opening kick-off.
When asked what it was like to run out onto Alumni Field in front of 45,000 screaming fans, he said,
“It was crazy! I was already nervous before the game, so once I got onto the field my nerves were magnified. But once the opening kick came to me and I returned it, my nerves disappeared and I thought, ‘It’s just like high school.”
Kimble ran the ball for more than 25 yards on his first touch in college, and has since averaged 86 yards per game on returns.
Special teams is not the only place where Kimble has made his mark. While playing in his primary position of running back, Kimble scored the first touchdown of his college career on a reception versus Duke. He told reporters that when he was given the play, his coach told him it was going to be a “big one”.
However, Kimble didn’t think anything of it until he caught the ball and realized that all the Blue Devil defenders were covered.
“As I started running, I heard the crowd getting louder and louder,” Kimble recalled. “I usually beat my chest twice and point to the sky whenever I score, but I was so excited that I didn’t even know what to do with myself. No matter how many more touchdowns I may score, that first one will always be my favorite.”
It takes a special kind of athlete to make in impact at any level, but it takes an exceptional player to make an impact in Division I football, especially when that player hails from a high school of only 800 students. Tahj Kimble proves that not only can you be a big fish in a small pond, but you can continue on and be a big fish in a bigger pond as well.