There's not much more you could ask of a freshman coming into the SEC than Marcus Tillman did for the Rebels in 2006.
Tillman hit the ground running and earned a starting spot on the young defensive line at end, but just as he was starting to catch on at that position, the undersized 260-pounder "took one for the team," moving inside to tackle when injuries took a toll on those positions.
"When Peria Jerry and J.G. (Jeremy Garrett) got hurt, there was nothing to do but move inside for the benefit of the team," said Tillman, now a chiseled 270-pounder. "I got knocked around sometimes in there, but I did the best I could and I learned a lot. I took it as a lesson in football.
"I have to admit, though, that I am glad to be back at end. I think that's my best position."
In spring training, Marcus, back at "home," rattled cages and kicked down doors - daily.
"He was dominant at times," said Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron when assessing spring training. "Marcus had an unbelievable spring because he worked so hard to improve and he did it every day."
Marcus takes all the accolades in stride.
"I'm just getting started in my college career," he says modestly. "I've got a lot of work to do from this point on. I'm proud of where I am at this stage in my career, but I'm not finished yet. In my mind, I have only scratched the surface of what I can do."
Tillman said the input from the veteran players helped him get over the rookie hump last year.
"We've got older guys who are willing to help and give younger guys a lot of tips and advice," he continued. "They have been through it themselves and know what to look for. We've got great DL coaching here, but it never hurts to get more help from the veterans. Guys like J.G. and Peria helped all the young guys a lot last year."
His goal is to continue improving and to return the favor to the incoming players.
"I know what they will be going through. Being anxious and uncertain and not knowing what to expect. I want to help them with whatever they need, show them the ropes like they were shown to me," he declared.
Marcus is working hard in the offseason and it shows. His 270 pounds is distributed differently than it was last year. He's now thicker in the shoulders, chest and arms and has maintained a relatively thin waistline.
"I don't feel a lot different, but when I look in the mirror I look different," he smiled. "We condition a lot in the summer, but we are also throwing around a lot of weights and I can tell I'm getting stronger and making progress."
He said the number one goal of the DL in 2007 is to be the strength of the defense.
"With new linebackers and some new secondary people, the guys up front have to pick up some slack until those new guys get adjusted," Marcus stated. "We need to get more pressure on the QB from our front four and we need to stuff the run.
"If everyone gets healthy and stays healthy, I think we will surprise some people with our DL play."
It's not common for a true sophomore to be a stalwart on the DL, but Marcus Tillman will probably be an exception to that rule in 2007.
"He's got the tools. I expect big things from him," Coach O said.
Marcus Tillman update -
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