Any parking lot at any NFL training camp offers proof that a Lexus and a pro football player often are made for one another.
Receiver Brian Tyms owned his Lexus long before he began competing for a roster spot on the Dolphins.
But he didn’t just drive around in the 1994 car.
He lived in it.
“I came from nothing,” Tyms says.
Plenty of NFL hopefuls say that, but few can match Tyms’ difficult road: growing up in foster care, earning minimum wage at McDonald’s to pay his way into junior college and spending four months homeless.
To measure how long that road has been, consider what happened during the Dolphins’ opening exhibition, when Tyms caught a first-quarter pass against Dallas. A close friend later told him the simple 9-yard reception made him break down in tears.
“He was just like, ‘Man, you came so far,’ ” Tyms says.
There’s no telling how much further this story will go. Tyms, 24, is one of nine receivers on the Dolphins’ roster fighting for what likely will be two jobs. Through three exhibition games, he has four receptions for 49 yards — about in the middle of the pack. He has enjoyed standout moments in practice, but that’s a claim many other contenders can make.
“I think he’s improved, there’s no question about it,” coach Joe Philbin says. “I like his play speed. He’s doing a better job blocking; he’s trying to be more aggressive in that area. And I think he’s caught the ball better.”
So Tyms is in a tight squeeze? Is that supposed to faze someone who lost both his troubled parents? Someone who lost touch with his half-sister for spans of six and seven years before they finally reconnected with a phone conversation lasting five hours?
Tyms went to high school at Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, but when no one recruited him and he couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition, he enrolled at Broward College. A brief falling out with his foster parents, which he now blames on himself, left him living in his car.
“I had all my clothes in my car, everything,” he says. “I was just going to school and going to work and hanging around with the wrong people, doing the wrong stuff.”
One thing did go right. He used to play football on Saturdays with relatives. Someone would throw the ball up. Tyms, now 6-feet-3 and 204 pounds, inevitably would go up and get it.
“You might as well take a shot,” they’d tell him. “Leave here, ‘cause there’s nothing here.”
So, “I took a shot in the dark,” Tyms says.
He pointed his car toward Tallahassee Community College, spending a year there until he could persuade Florida A&M to give him a chance, even if the most he ever received was a half-scholarship his senior year.
“I had a lot of people say, ‘A waste of talent. I’m wasting my time. Nobody can make it from FAMU,’ ” Tyms says.
He didn’t just hear it. He took notes on it.
“I used to have it on my wall so every time I’d go to practice at 6 in the morning or 11 o’clock at night by myself, I’d read it to motivate me.”
He played two seasons for the Rattlers, including a 2011 senior season in which he had 38 receptions for 538 yards and three touchdowns. He spent last summer in the San Francisco 49ers’ camp before getting cut. The Dolphins quickly signed him to the practice squad, where he spent last season.
Tyms made productive use of his time in both training camps, shadowing Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in San Francisco. With the Dolphins, he doesn’t just shadow veteran Mike Wallace, he becomes a virtual Wallace.
“That’s my big brother, man,” Tyms says. “As a kid playing Madden and stuff, he was one of the receivers I traded for.” So when Wallace mentions Tyms as one of the young receivers to catch his eye, “It means a lot,” Tyms says.
In casual conversations, Tyms might mention coming from “nothing” without elaborating, other than to say, “So if Coach is telling me to play corner, I’ll play corner. I don’t care. I just want to play.”
He understates his background by design.
“I try to be humble,” he says. “I take the Bill Belichick rule: They don’t really care about your problems, man. So I just keep all that underneath and walk around with a smile on and try to enjoy it while I’m here. Just take advantage of everything.
“Because there’s nothing like living out of your car, I’m telling you that right now.”