Hard hitter

The Baltimore Sun

His name might not ring a bell, but Tony Vinson rang a few of his own among Ravens opponents during his two years in Baltimore.

A graduate of Towson University, Vinson played on special teams in 1997 and 1999, earning a reputation as a tough tackler with a strong work ethic.

"My fondest memories are of me and [special teams captain] Bennie Thompson flying downfield at 100 miles an hour on kickoffs, with bodies flying everywhere," he said. "We were the wedge busters.

"When we got back to the bench, we'd ask each other, 'Did they get you? Did they knock you out?'

"If one of us said yes, the other would say, 'Did you see a few Tweety birds?' "

Said Vinson: "I enjoyed special teams, though you've got to be a little crazy to do that."

Raised in Virginia, Vinson enrolled at Purdue University and transferred to Towson, where he rushed for 2,016 yards as a senior, then an NCAA Division I-AA record.

But his failure to graduate stuck in Vinson's craw. Drafted in the fifth round by San Diego in 1994, he made the club's practice squad and accompanied the team to the January 1995 Super Bowl in Miami, where the Chargers lost.

"The next morning I hopped the red-eye to Baltimore and hit the Towson campus at 8 a.m., just in time to sign up for my last courses that spring," Vinson said.

He earned a degree in business administration and now works as assistant plant manager for a building products firm in Hagerstown. Vinson, 36, lives in Manchester (Carroll County) with his wife, Kierre, a special education teacher, and 4-year-old son Jalin.

Though injuries shortened his football career, Vinson relished his time in the pros. He kept his Ravens jersey, No. 44 - the same number he wore at Towson - and the memories of having played in the bigs, however brief his stay.

"Everyone jokes that NFL stands for 'Not For Long,' " he said. "But I got to do something that hundreds of thousands of guys would kill to have the opportunity to do for just one game - even to just be able to run out of that tunnel onto the field. And I got to do it in my adopted hometown, with family and friends around.

"It's a dream, often a short-lived one, that so many have but few can realize."


Tony Vinson

With the Ravens: 1997, 1999.

Other teams: Selected in fifth round of 1994 draft by San Diego Chargers.

Current job: Assistant plant manager of Rocky Top Building Products in Hagerstown.

Career statistics: Nine tackles on special teams in 1997 (fourth best on the club).

Fun fact: In spring of 1998, he worked as an unpaid intern on Capitol Hill for Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent, a Hall of Fame wide receiver.

College: Transferred as junior from Purdue to Towson University, where he earned a degree in business administration.

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