If you talk to Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt about his Rebel team on a regular basis, you will find several recurring themes.
One, it's all about team and not individuals.
Two, he's very engaging and patient with the media.
Three, nine times out of 10, when he is pressed into discussing standout individuals, the name Marcus Tillman comes up.
"Marcus has been the best player on defense in fall camp," he said early last week.
"Marcus Tillman doesn't say much, but he works hard, you don't have to tell him things twice and you know what you are going to get from him," Nutt said last Saturday.
"Marcus has handled DT very well because he's so consistent and he has learned to take on and hansdle blocks much better since spring," Nutt about Tillman today.
After a while, you start to figure it out, like a skillet upside your head, Houston Nutt is a fan of the junior from McCall Creek, MS.
You can hardly get a peep out of Tillman, on or off the field, but his presence is felt repeatedly with his play.
Former President Teddy Roosevelt once coined a phrase, "Walk softly and carry a big stick."
That's Marcus in a nutshell.
"I'd like to have four just like him," said DL Coach Tracy Rocker last week. "He just does things right. He pays attention, he gets it, he's a smart football player, he's dependable and he's physically gifted. He can play DE or DT equally as well and that's a bonus for us."
Needless to say, Marcus will be a major cog in the Rebs' defensive line when the 2008 season kicks off Saturday against Memphis in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at 6 p.m.
And that is doubly true now that the Rebs are, for sure, going without DE Greg Hardy, and possibly DT Peria Jerry, both who were injured in fall camp.
"With those guys out, it's kind of fallen to me to be a leader. I don't say much, but I try to be consistent and set a good example," Marcus noted. "I think that is important. I think I have had a good camp. I think I have been very consistent, at least that was and is my goal."
Tillman has been keeping a close eye on Hardy and Jerry's replacements - Lawon Scott, Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent, Justin Smith, Chris Bowers and Kentrell Lockett.
"I have seen everyone improve on the whole D-Line. When we watch film in our position meetings, I'm watching myself, but I see them too and I see those guys stepping up a little more every day," he continued. "They have the tools, I know that, and I know Coach Rocker is coaching them up. I'm excited about playing alongside them."
When Marcus was a true freshman in 2006, he started out at defensive end, but was moved inside as a 255-pounder due to interior injuries midway through the campaign. He played DE all of last year and then was moved back inside this fall camp. Things are a lot better the second time around in what Rocker refers to as "the hole" for the 6-4, 268-pounder.
"I've done a lot better because I know how to play the blocks. When I was a freshman, I didn't know much and I was kind of intimidated at times," Marcus added. "I am confident now that I can play the position effectively."
Tillman is anxious to get the season started. He respects Memphis and is excited about the opportunity to go against the Tiger OL.
"They don't give up. They play until the end," he said. "I know we will have to play the whole game. Last year, we had a good lead and the game ended up coming down to a two-point conversion. We know we have to finish the game and play as hard as we can every snap."
Marcus is going to get his game face on, literally, for the opener.
Saturday, the Rebels held a game rehearsal practice and the new video board was being tested at the same time.
"That thing is amazing. On close-ups, you can see expressions and everything. I'm going to get a haircut Thursday," he joked.
Marcus Tillman, with or without Hardy and Jerry, will be one of the stalwarts on the Rebel defense.
If you don't believe us, ask Houston Nutt or Tracy Rocker.
Based on what they have seen, Tillman is their guy and they have high expectations for him.
Marcus wouldn't have it any other way.
Marcus Tillman -
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