Lenard Tillery and Southern’s offensive line have worked well together this season.
So well that Tillery has a chance to become the first Southern running back to rush for 1,000 yards since Kenneth Peebles in 2003.
Tillery needs only 189 yards to reach the milestone, and with at least two more games left in this season, there’s a chance. But the junior running back said he’s more focused on the team’s shot at the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship than individual success.
“I’m focused on winning games,” he said. “But if I reach (1,000 rushing yards) in the process, I’ll be happy. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t happen and we win both games, great. I just want to win both games.”
And if the Jaguars win both games, they will play in the SWAC Championship Game — which, of course, would be another opportunity for Tillery rack up more yards.
Tillery was Southern’s leading rusher last year as a sophomore — but at the start of the 2014 season, he dropped down to fourth-string and only expected to have a small, contributing role.
After injuries plagued the running back position, Tillery got another opportunity to play.
He took advantage of his second chance.
Now the Baton Rouge native leads Southern in rushing yards for the second year. Tillery said working his way up gave him a new appreciation for every second he has in a game.
“People always tell me the game of football teaches you lessons,” he said. “It’s making me appreciate every snap, every play, every carry I get. It just made a better person, a better leader and a better player.”
The milestone would have Tillery’s name on it, but the running back’s success on the ground benefits Southern in more ways than the 811 rushing yards and six touchdowns he has so far.
Not only does the running take time off the clock and wear down defenses, it also takes the pressure off starting quarterback Austin Howard, a true freshman.
“With a new quarterback coming in, you want to have playmakers take the load off of Austin,” Tillery said. “Whenever we’re on the field and he’s going through stuff, I let him know, ‘Hey, just give me the ball I’ll take care of you and get this first down for you.’ He really trusts me and I trust him.”
And the offensive line loves blocking for Tillery.
If given a choice, the Southern offensive linemen would rather the team run than pass because of the aggressive nature of the play. But offensive lineman Dewayne Houston said the line also enjoys having a successful running back.
“He’s an exciting runner. He runs hard,” Houston said. “The offensive line takes pride in having a rusher that does as well as he does. Anytime we can help him out and get him more yards, it’s always good. And when we’re running the ball, we can hit people.”
Tillery graduated from McKinley High School, right outside the gates of LSU, where he attended plenty of home games as he grew up. He loves watching Southeastern Conference football and power-running Big Ten teams such as Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Watching other teams and other conferences is where he finds his motivation.
“I love football. I love running backs. I love offensive lines. I love blocking schemes. I love seeing it. It’s all I really watch,” Tillery said. “I love passing, quarterbacks and all of that, but the trenches is where I’m at. That’s basically my motivation: just to be the best running back that I can be, so maybe my name can be mentioned with the greater running backs.”