Vols Like Ohio O-lineman

Tennessee's coaches know a good offensive line prospect when they see one and they, apparently, really like what they see of 6-foot-7, 300-pound Lee Tilley of Springfield South High School in Springfield, Ohio.

According to Jeremy Beckham, who is Tilley's position coach at Springfield South, the Vols came through with a scholarship offer for the big tackle last week, expanding an impressive list of offers that includes: Cincinnati, Clemson, Georgia, Louisville, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina State, Oklahoma and Washington.

Among the things suitors see in Tilley to prompt an early glut of offers are a strong work ethic, imposing physical presence, laudable mobility, long arms and an almost unlimited upside. In other words: Tilley is already good and he still has a lot of room for improvement.

"As a player he's only been playing football for three years," said Beckham. "I think the newness is still there with a lot of things he does. What's surprising about him, because of his lack of experience, is that his football IQ is pretty high. I think that chimes in with the fact he's a very coachable player. He's one of those guys that does what he's told and he's always eager to learn so I think that's really lent a hand in his development."

Tilley has started all three of those seasons, including a sophomore campaign in which he graded out at a nearly perfect 98 percent with no sacks allow. As a junior last year, he successfully completed 96 percent of his assignments and pitched another shutout in pass protection. That's significant because the Wildcats employ a passing system that puts the pressure on Tilley to protect the quarterback's blind side.

Now considered one of the top O-line prospects in the nation, Tilley is poised for a stellar senior season with which he can reap the rewards of his hard work.

"He has a good work ethic," said Beckham. "I think that comes from a strong background. It's obvious he was raised right. His mom did everything right with him. He works hard. He's one of those nose-to-the-grindstone type guys. I think that's what these coaches are finding out as they have a chance to talk to him. That's why these coaches are falling for him and that's what draws their interest."

So what is Tilley interested in when it comes to choose as college?

"I'm looking at the campus life, the coaching staff, the people," he said. "Those are all things I'm going to be looking at."

Tilley, who plans to major in business, hasn't visited any campuses yet but he does several schools that he's very interested in visiting.

"I've been to no camps," he said in a manner that suggested he had fielded that query before. "I don't know how many camps I'm going to be attending, but I'm going to set my summer plans to attend some camps, go to practices, visit campuses. I just want to see a lot of places and make an intelligent decision."

He's currently working to improve his strength and to get his qualifying tests out the way. Lee Tilley regularly squats 450 to 500 pounds and has a 325-pound best in the bench press. That's not bad upper body strength given that he has only been lifting three years and he has an exceptionally long wingspan.

I have like a seven-foot wing span," Tilley said with a laugh. "I have irregularly long arms."

He can make much better use of that arm length on the gridiron than he can on the bench. As a left tackle, the wide wingspan allows him to keep rush ends at arms length which is far away from the quarterback. He also has quick feet and, reportedly, runs a 5.09 time in the 40.

With offers flooding in for the agile tackle, his dance card is filling up fast.

"I'm going to try and visit Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Georgia and Syracuse," he said. "I'm interested in Iowa but Iowa still doesn't know that I exist.

"With Tennessee I'm still just in shock and awe that they would give me such an honor," he said. "I'm supposed to visit Georgia, Ole Miss and Syracuse. That's the only visits I've scheduled. I'm going to fit in a few more to make a more informed decision."

So does he anticipate squeezing in a visit to Big Orange Country?

"I've never seen Tennessee," he said. "It's close to Ohio so distance is not really a factor. It's a great program, good atmosphere. That's what I hear on the phone anyway. I'm going to do some research on it before I go up."

Tennessee offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens is recruiting Tilley with help from offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, who has the Ohio area for UT. Beckham believes the Vols will be a contender for Tilley given their reputation for developing offensive linemen over the Fulmer years and a history of recruiting well in the Buckeye State.

"Heck yeah, the tradition of offensive lineman at Tennessee is great," Beckham stated. "I'm not familiar with everyone, but I know every year they're pulling in one of the top-rated classes in America. I know that Michael Munoz is from Ohio and he had a wonderful career at Tennessee. We hope he's going to continue on in the NFL this year. I think that says a lot about the quality of athletes Coach Fulmer and his staff bring in year in and year out. That's also why they have had the success they've had."

Beckham indicates it's a virtual foregone conclusion Tilley will take an official visit to Knoxville and he may want to commit early to help eliminate any distractions going in the 2005 season.

"We're going to him up there," Beckham exclaimed. "I think the last Tennessee player from our area was Peerless Price. Andy McCullough was from the same high school as Price.

"It's quite an honor and I'm really excited for him and his family. It's an exciting time when you get offered by a top tier team like Tennessee. I think the coaches there made a wise decision. Lee is a hard worker and if he decides Tennessee is the school for him, I think Tennessee fans are going to be excited to have him. I'm sure he'll make them proud."

For the time being, Tennessee fans would be satisfied to get a visit from the Ohio standout.

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