Throughout his career at Southern University, junior running back Lenard Tillery has made it known that team goals superseded any personal achievements.
Saturday night, after Southern handily dispatched Alabama A&M 46-7, Tillery couldn’t avoid talking about individual feats.
Tillery picked up 127 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes, but the number that had everyone talking was 3,050 — his career rushing total. That number moved Tillery into first place on Southern’s all-time rushing list where he supplanted Steve Wofford.
“It wasn‘t easy,” said Tillery, who walked on to the team in 2012 after graduating from McKinley High. “Most of the hard part happens off the field, but if you persevere, take care of what you’ve got to do in class and get to Saturday, you’ll be alright.”
Saturdays have been good to Tillery, who recorded his fifth consecutive 100-yard game. It was one of several achievements for Tillery during the Jaguars’ home finale.
Wofford gained 3,015 yards during a three-season career (1996-98), the last two in which he gained more than 1,000 yards. Wofford’s back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons had not been duplicated until this year. After rushing for 1,196 yards last season, Tillery went past 1,000 for this season during the first quarter of Saturday’s game.
The play that did it was a 7-yard sweep around left end. The one that broke the career rushing mark came less than two minutes before the first half — and it was vintage Tillery.
With Southern already leading 26-7, Tillery busted a 39-yard touchdown run over the right side. He darted through the line, juked a defender at the 17 and bulled over another at the 5 on his way to the end zone.
True to form, Tillery didn’t initially know he had broken the record.
“When I came off (the field), everyone was telling me I had got it. I thought I still had 30 or 40 more to go,” Tillery said. “To have it on a run like that is something straight out of a movie.”
Movie scene or not, quarterback Austin Howard got caught up in the moment, too. He praised Tillery’s willingness to practice hard and lead the team.
“I was running down the field with him on the play he broke it,” Howard said. “He deserves every bit of it. He comes to practice and works hard every day.
“He tries to get my mind right. Even though I’m the quarterback, he’s a leader, too. His actions prove it all.”
It all started in 2012 when then-coach Stump Mitchell gave Tillery a spot as a preferred walk-on.
“Whether you’re a walk on or a scholarship guy, you’re really no different,” said Dawson Odums, who took over for Mitchell during that 2012 season. “I’m proud of him. He runs as if he has something to prove, and that’s usually what makes you a great back.
“He broke the record and he’s got another year, so he’s probably going to shatter the record.”
For now, Tillery said breaking Southern’s career rushing record is an accomplishment that hasn’t yet sunk in.
“Everybody keeps telling me it’s going to hit you, but not yet,” he said. “Probably when I wake up tomorrow I’ll think about it. If it’s in the record books for good, then I’m just happy about it. It’s an example for my team and the kids from Baton Rouge that you can do it.”