Back in the 2010-2011 season we came to know a kid from North Thurston High School in Lacey, Washington as he tore it up from the backfield and on special teams. Lawyer Tillman is his name. Many of you Washington High School football junkies will smile and shake your head at the mere mention of the name. He has some special speed and agility for a 5'11"- 180 pound kid and his top end speed once he broke into the open is very "nice" as they say.
But like most top skill guys from the Region they are ultimately fighting for those big recruiting spots against top talent from California, Texas, and Florida where speed is plentiful from populations that dwarf ours. His speed was awesome by our standards but not "big time" by national specifications.
That however did not stop Lawyer from pursuing his dreams to play college football so he headed to Ashland, Oregon to play for Southern Oregon University on a partial scholarship. He liked it there and was redshirted that first year. But as time went on a little voice kept whispering to him that this was not the right fit for him and that he still had unfinished business.
Making The Connection
There was something in the back of my mind when I first met Lawyer Tillman but it never came up into discussions we had together in 2010. Back in the 1980's there was a guy named Lawyer Tillman who played at Auburn and had a nice stint in the NFL. I remembered him because he was a great player. We never made the attempt to connect the two and the young man from North Thurston never offered it up. So we left it alone.
Then came the picture that our young Lawyer Tillman posted on Facebook this past week. There for all to see was a bearded and smiling kid holding the SEC Championship Trophy and a Tiger jersey.
And then it all came clear. This kid was in fact the son of the Lawyer Tilman Senior from Auburn; so now we began to understand. And the Trophy that "Junior" was holding was the SEC Championship Trophy that the Tigers had just won and they did so by staging 4 different 4th quarter comebacks this season and by defeating Alabama in the Iron Bowl. That play of plays that had the sports world on it's ear a couple weeks back, the "Pick 6 Kick" , became the Play Of The Year as named by ESPN this past week. And our Lawyer Tillman was there.
Him being there as a player on the roster at Auburn is one thing. He is retreading the steps that his father took back in the 1980's and living out his personal dream. But for those of you that do not remember or are too young to know you will enjoy this fact.
His father, Lawyer Tillman Senior, is a legendary Tiger because he himself had the play of plays in 1986 when he took the ball on an end around and scored to win the Iron Bowl as time ran out. So the younger Tillman was bursting as the 2013 Auburn squad won going away this year.
"This year has been amazing. I can not begin to tell you the feelings really. Back in 1986 my Dad was not even supposed to be on the field. But time was running out and the play had to go so he tells me he just reacted and let things happen and he scored. It is something we have always talked about," said Lawyer.
Watch Lawyer Tillman Senior win the 1986 Iron Bowl with his end around run!
History repeated itself two weeks ago as Lawyer watched his team steal the Iron Bowl and the National Championship from Alabama. It has been 27 years since his Dad did it and the only thing that could have made this irony more sweet was if young Lawyer had scored this years touchdown. Truly though he is living the Dream right now.
The Rest Of The Story
The rest of the story beyond these incredible connections is the one we want to tell. The One that can be helpful to many of you reading this.
How did a kid from North Thurston High School who went to a small Oregon University end up at Auburn?
Maybe it is simple as telling you he was simply chasing his dream. Because that is all there is to it really.
"I liked SOU but I kept hearing that voice. And I just decided one day that I could not have regrets and that I could make it at Auburn. I never told you about my Dad because I wanted to be my own man and prove myself. And I am still doing that," said Lawyer. "I am not here at Auburn on a scholarship but am an active part of the practice squad and we practice every day and do all we can to make the team the best. It is all part of the process for me and I do not mind waiting for my shot."
At North Thurston the Rams had a set of good running backs who came before Tillman. He had to wait until his Senior Year to really prove himself. So he does not mind waiting now. He will be a red shirt Junior next year and says he thinks he has a real shot to get into the mix. As a side note he is not sure that the current staff knows about his Father because it has never been mentioned between any of them.
"The Coaches have mentioned to me an opportunity to get into the mix on special teams next season which is great. That is the same way I made it in High School. So I feel really good about my work here so far."
Now keep in mind that because he moved up several levels to get from SOU to Auburn he had to take a year off from football. So he has sacrificed to be at Auburn; a big gamble that really is paying off. For him this has meant more student loans and more money to attend college but he plans to work it all off and not let that aspect hold him down.
"For me it came down to "Go Big or Go Home". So here I am helping my team prepare for the National Championship Game and we are all going to the BCS Championship together. The chance to be a part of this team has meant everything to me. I mean the year has been crazy because we have had to keep coming back game after game but we never quit and look at where we are," said the young man of devout Christian faith.
He credits Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzhan and his staff for making this year a huge success. He is now at 200 lbs and says that his Auburn training has transformed him too.
"Coach is so systematic and professional. He puts an amazing amount of time in and they will get after us for sure but they are alos terrific motivators. From top to bottom this is just a great situation here."
Lawyer Tillman Senior is from Mobile, Alabama and when he split up with Lawyer's Mother he stayed and they left for Washington. Other then a long distance relationship by phone the Father and Son were not able to spend too much time together for many years. Now they can as they are closer together and have a common bond through family. faith, and Auburn Football. So that has been another benefit.
Favorite Part of Playing At Auburn
The last question we asked Lawyer was what his favorite part of being an Auburn Tiger has been so far?
"A lot of things stand out. But I have to say when they let our Eagle Nova fly around the Stadium before our games that just hits me. The cry of "War Eagle" means a lot around here and when you see her fly and land and the band starts playing it's pretty amazing," he said.
What Does This Teach Us?
For you recruits and parents there are many lessons here. One of them I think is to always follow your Dreams if you can. Every kid that puts that helmet on, and usually his parents, are dreaming of and hoping to land a big time 4 year full ride scholarship to a Major University. But realize that does not happen for 99.9% that do.
For many kids they go on to play somewhere and become a big part of a smaller team and get what they want which is to play as much and as long as they can. But an equal or greater number of kids move on to play and eventually quit because their heart is not in it and that Dream is gone.
As you all approach the decision you're going to make on your sports future consider all the factors. Consider what you want and what you can afford. Is any amount of money from a college worth changing all your plans? In Lawyer's case it was not. He will graduate with a psychology degree from Auburn University within 2 season and will have a lifetime of memories and he has already lived out most of his dreams. Getting that football in his hands again is the only thing left and he is on course to do just that potentially. Yes he will have student loans but really not much less then he was going to have anyway. For him this was the right decision.
Many of you have called and asked us what you should do. That is not for us to say. But by reading stories like this and talking with your Coaches and family you will be presented with options. We want you to know that even if you do not pick the right one you can still find your way.
We wish all of you a great Holiday Season and a great future. And I already know who I am cheering for on January 6th!
Watch Lawyer Tillman Junior do his thing back in High school at North Thurston HS