By Felix Cunningham
When asked of history-making statistics, Southern running back Lenard Tillery had only the slightest clue.
The junior Business Management major from McKinley High School needed 25 yards to tie the school record and 87 yards to become the Jaguars rushing leader.
In the Jaguars final home game last Saturday against Alabama A&M, Tillery broke his second consecutive career rushing record of 1,000 yards before halftime after gliding to the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown.
“When I came off of the field everyone was telling me I had got it,” Tillery said. “I thought I still had 30 or 40 more to go. To have it on a run like that is like something out of a movie.”
After a 127-yard performance last weekend, Tillery is now Southern University’s all-time leading rusher with 3,050 yards.
And Tillery’s only a junior.
“He broke the record and he has another year, so he’s probably going to shatter the record,” Odums said.
Steve Wofford was the last running back to achieve two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons from 1997-98, rushing for 3,010 total yards in his career.
Beforehand his linemen were keeping him up to date on how many yards he had remaining.
“They’re excited, and they make it easy for me,” Tillery said.
“I’ve been looking at these numbers for three years now. He’s been my running back for three years and I want to see him do great,” senior lineman Reginald Redding said.
Southern head coach Dawson Odums lauded the historical accomplishment of his junior running back.
“[Tillery] only needs a small opening to make big plays,” Odums said. “So it doesn’t put a big strain on the offensive linemen.”
Tillery leads the Southwestern Athletic Conference with 121 rushing yards per game in conference play. He has rushed for over 100 yards in his past five matchups.
As a child, Southern running back Lenard Tillery watched Southern and LSU on television, which motivated him to strive for greatness during his collegiate football career.
“When watching Southern, it motivated me to be one of those guys on TV and go hard for every play,” Tillery said.
Tillery rushed for a team high 784 yards as a freshman two years ago.
Despite his freshman numbers, Tillery found himself fourth on the depth chart entering preseason camp of his sophomore year behind Jamarkcus Jarvis, Tyre Bracken and Malcolm Crockett.
Tillery soon became the leading man when Jarvis and Bracken left the program last season.
When Tillery came to Southern joined the evolving committee to become a more balanced offense in the past couple of years.
It became the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra.
“Each year he’s gotten better,” Odums said. “When you perform at his level of play and when you work as hard as this young man works, you deserve all of the rewards that come with that, and he’s deposited a lot of hours and a lot of energy and time into the kind of running back he is today.”
Tillery broke the record with a smile on his face, allowing Southern’s 23 to witness history at its finest. This also helped the Jaguars go 2-2 at Mumford Stadium, avoiding a losing record at home.
The effect of joining the Jaguar record books has not hit Tillery yet in the slightest.
“Everybody keeps telling me it’s going to hit you but not yet,” Tillery 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.”
With perseverance, Tillery has made history, and he and the rest of the Jaguars will take their efforts down to the Bayou Classic on November 28 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to face the undefeated Grambling State University.