Tyliek Raynor received the handoff on a draw play, and his instincts took over. One cut to the right, another further out, and he was on his way to the end zone, completing a stirring 15-yard run.
For Raynor, a redshirt sophomore at Temple, it was a long journey to a once-familiar place, one he knew well when he was lighting it up at Imhotep Charter in Philly. Temple coach Geoff Collins calls him a playground legend.
"I felt really good finally getting into the end zone, and scoring my first touchdown was a blessing," Raynor said after Tuesday's practice. "I just thank God through all the trials and tribulations I went through, I was able to get back and, hopefully, one of my goals was scoring a touchdown."
Raynor's injuries began when he broke his right ankle near the end of his senior season at Imhotep. The injury didn't hinder him as a freshman at Temple, but he still redshirted.
Last year, he suffered a torn right meniscus in the summer and missed the entire season. Raynor still wasn't ready at the beginning of this season and missed the first four games.
He made his debut Sept. 29 in a 45-35 loss to Boston College and had just one carry for 2 yards. The next week, he had five carries for 14 yards in a 49-6 rout of East Carolina. Last week, he had three carries for 25 yards — including the 15-yard TD — in a 24-17 victory against Navy.
With the status of top running back Ryquell Armstead uncertain, Raynor could play a bigger role when Temple (4-3, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) hosts No. 20 Cincinnati (6-0, 2-0) in the Owls' homecoming game at noon Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
No running back on the Owls, not even Armstead, can match Raynor's speed.
"My speed is all back," he said. "I feel I got faster over the winter."
Raynor's teammates respect all he went through to return to the field.
"I was pretty excited for him," offensive tackle Jaelin Robinson said. "He is a tough guy and has had to battle back from a lot, and I was happy to see him get in there."
With Raynor's speed, the linemen don't have to hold their blocks as long.
"He is a downhill kind of guy, and that is a great thing to have in the backfield," Robinson said.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Raynor put on some muscle in the offseason and now is much stronger. He also had to be mentally strong to endure his long period of football inactivity.
"It was difficult," Raynor said. "I have a good group of family and friends, and they have always been on my side when I went down."
Raynor received good advice from those close to him.
"They said, 'Keep pushing, everything happens for a reason, and when you get your time, go,' " he said.
That time came Saturday.
"All I needed was a few hits, a few cuts, just to get back and just feel like it was OK and didn't hurt," Raynor said. "There nothing that really hurts, and I just feel regular, 100 percent."
Cincinnati at Temple
When, where: Saturday, noon, Lincoln Financial Field
Record: Cincinnati, 6-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference; Temple, 4-3, 3-0.
TV/Radio: ESPNU/WTEL 610 AM
Coaches: Cincinnati, Luke Fickell (2nd season, 10-8; overall, 16-15); Temple, Geoff Collins (2nd season, 11-9).
Series history: Temple leads, 12-7-1. The Owls have won three in a row after last year's 35-24 win at Cincinnati.
Three things to watch
– After defending the triple option in last week's 24-17 win at Navy, Temple returns to facing a more familiar spread offense. The key will be how the Owls handle dual-threat quarterback Desmond Ridder, a 6-foot-4, 212-pound redshirt freshman. Ridder has completed nearly 66 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,062 yards, 10 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. He has rushed for 315 yards (4.6 avg.) and four TDs. Containing him on run-pass options will be a key.
– Temple is averaging 31.4 points, but the Owls will be, at least statistically, facing their best defense so far this season. Cincinnati is among the top 10 nationally in many defensive categories, most notably scoring defense. The Bearcats are first in the AAC and third nationally, allowing just 13.7 points per game. The Bearcats are fourth nationally in total defense, allowing 274.3 yards per game. A major priority for Temple will be keeping 6-3, 290-pound senior defensive tackle Cortez Broughton away from quarterback Anthony Russo. Broughton has 11 tackles for loss, including five sacks, to lead the Bearcats in both categories.
– Cincinnati is first in the nation in pass-efficiency defense and eighth in passing defense, allowing just 154.3 yards per game. The Bearcats will be facing a deep Temple receiving corps and a confident Russo, who is 4-1 as the Owls' starting quarterback. While most teams try to establish the run to set up the pass, Temple might be better served doing the opposite and come out firing on the Bearcats secondary. What has made Temple so difficult to defend is that Russo has taken advantage of many options. Last week, he connected with nine receivers, led by Ventell Bryant, who had eight receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown. Bryant is a key because he is both an outstanding route runner and a blocker. If Cincinnati gives him extra attention after last week, other Owls receivers are more than capable of stepping up.