Southern had just completed a 46-7 whipping of Alabama A&M on Saturday night.
Senior linebacker Daniel Brown had just played his final game in Mumford Stadium, and he recalled when he first came across a new teammate named Lenard Tillery.
“The first time I met him,” Brown said, “he told me, ‘When I leave, I’m going to have done some great things.’ ”
Tillery isn’t leaving just yet, but already he has done some great things: “3,000 yards (in) three years — that’s an accomplishment,” Brown said.
To be exact, Tillery has rushed for 3,050 yards with one game left in his third season, the Nov. 28 Bayou Classic against Grambling in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That gives him the most rushing yards of anyone ever to play at Southern.
On Saturday, he had 127 yards — his fifth consecutive game with at least 100 rushing yards — and became the career rushing leader on a 39-yard dash to the end zone.
It was vintage Tillery — reaching full speed almost immediately, identifying the clearest path to daylight, cutting toward it and running as hard as he could.
When Tillery arrived as a preferred walk-on from McKinley High School four years ago, he was an unlikely candidate to have a 1,000-yard season — he now has two in a row — let alone be the career rushing leader as a junior.
He has 1,102 yards this season, ninth-most in the Football Championship Subdivision. He needs just 87 yards in the Bayou Classic — the Jaguars’ 11th game this season — to surpass his total in 13 games last season.
His touchdown against the Bulldogs gave him 13 this season — tied for sixth-most in the FCS — and 31 for his career.
“I hold him to a higher expectation because of the character he has shown since he’s been here,” coach Dawson Odums said. “I expect him to be a leader. I expect him to be up front, and he’s done that since he’s been here. These are the rewards that you get when you do those things.”
Tillery redshirted as a freshman, something he noted after he passed Steve Wofford and ascended to the top of the career rushing list.
It was special, Tillery noted, that he got the record in a game that was the last home game for Brown and 22 fellow seniors.
“A lot of them were in the class I would have been in if I hadn’t redshirted,” Tillery said.
Now he’s in a class by himself.
“I wanted to come here and break records,” he said. “The first year I played, we broke a record and won a championship.”
Tillery was referring to the 2013 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship. It wasn’t exactly a record, but it was a milestone in that it was the Jaguars’ first SWAC title in 10 years.
Though Tillery was Southern’s leading rusher that season, he found himself fourth on the depth chart early in preseason camp last season. He never complained — at least not publicly — and instead just ran as hard as he could every time he touched the ball, in practice just as he did in games.
Tillery has a habit of not only running with game-like force during practice but also of routinely running all the way to the end zone in non-contact drills.
“You run hard every time you touch the ball,” he said, “because you never know when you’re going to get another opportunity.”
Tillery can look forward to a lot more opportunities — first in the Bayou Classic, then throughout his senior season as he tries to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in Southern history.
“Whoever chases him,” Odums said, “is going to have to have a heck of a career to catch him.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.