Adron Tennell set Spokane Shock single-season records in several receiving categories last season.
Entering the 2013 season, he had a request for head coach Andy Olson.
“Hold me more accountable how I’m doing on the field,” Tennell said. “If I drop a ball, don’t turn your head because I’m a good receiver. Be hard on me like anyone else. And he’s been doing that.”
Tennell is on pace this season to break his records, but the other day he felt the need to send a text message to Olson. “I just asked him, ‘What can I do better for this game?’ ” Tennell said. “And he gave me a list of things.”
Those examples illustrate how one of the Arena Football League’s best receivers made himself better this season. His 126 receptions and 45 touchdowns (39 receiving) rank first in the league. His 1,479 receiving yards are second.
His desire to improve overrides the statistics. He’s gone from a fresh-faced rookie who started to crack the lineup later in the 2011 season to an experienced player capable of dominating games. He’s made strides physically, doing offseason crossfit training to enhance his cardio and bolster his strength to withstand the rigors of an 18-game regular season.
“I’m a lot more comfortable in coach’s system,” Tennell said. “Last year was really my first full year of running as a main receiver and I was still trying to run routes. Now I know exactly what I’m doing and the other two receivers are doing.
“And it’s always good to have a quarterback like Erik (Meyer) that is going to make me look good. He’s the one doing the hard work.”
Olson, who at one point held the franchise record with 112 catches in 2008, called Tennell “the best receiver in the AFL. He’s extremely talented and so versatile for a guy that is 6-foot-5. He can run every route at that height, not many guys can do that. He can jump up and go get it. He can run double-move routes.”
Tennell, along with talented rookie Kamar Jorden and speedster Brandon Thompkins, acquired in a trade with Utah last month, form one of the AFL’s top receiving units. Tennell pointed out that the combination of their strengths helps each put up big numbers and stress defenses.
The receivers have choreographed celebratory touchdown dances with mixed results.
“Kamar is the ringleader, but I throw my two cents in,” said Tennell, who has scored multiple touchdowns in 18 consecutive games. “They don’t want to hear me because they say I dance like an old man. They try to do the dances without me, but me and (offensive lineman Patrick) Afif just join in.”
Tennell’s path to Spokane began in his home state of Texas. A three-sport standout at Irving High, Tennell received widespread recruiting interest, including most Big 12 schools. First, he had to pick a sport. He went with football because one of his prep coaches suggested it was where his future was the brightest. Tennell was rated No. 5 among receivers and No. 36 overall by ESPN.com as a high school senior.
He chose Oklahoma because of the program’s tradition of success, but spent most of his time on special teams. He had 16 catches in his first three seasons – one cut short by a torn ACL – before grabbing 24 receptions for 297 yards as a senior.
Tennell got a look with the New Orleans Saints and had a tryout with the now defunct Dallas Vigilantes of the AFL. One day a message popped up on his Facebook page from Shock general manager Ryan Rigmaiden.
“He asked me if I wanted to come up to Spokane and give it a shot,” Tennell said. “I knew a little bit about it, but I didn’t know where Spokane was. I was looking at Washington D.C. and trying to figure out the time zone.
“They told me it’s where Gonzaga (basketball) plays. I said, ‘Yeah, I know about them.’ ”
Tennell’s Shock career nearly ended before he played a down. Spokane started the 2011 season 0-2 and head coach Rob Keefe fired offensive coordinator Fred Biletnikoff Jr. Tennell said Biletnikoff wanted to release him, but Keefe didn’t share the same opinion.
“We wouldn’t be talking if it wasn’t for Keefe,” Tennell said.
Tennell’s ultimate goal is the NFL, but he’s content in Spokane. He plans to spend the next two years here with his wife and their two young daughters.
“If an NFL team wants to give me a shot I’m going to take it,” he said. “If not, I’m happy to be with the Spokane Shock.”