Hard work pays off Southern's Lenard Tillery

One of the toughest things Southern running back Lenard Tillery has had to do during his time with the Jaguars didn’t come in response adversity.

The moment the Baton Rouge native had to muster up the most strength came in Southern coach Dawson Odum’s office when Tillery found out he was no longer a walk-on status with the program.

“I was almost in tears when coach Odums told me I was going to get some money next year,” said Tillery who was still visibly proud about the moment more than a year after the fact.

Of course, even the toughest athletes have their limits.

“I held it back like a man and waited until I got outside and then I cried and called my dad,” Tillery said.

Tillery turned down scholarship offers from several other Southwestern Athletic Conference schools in favor of signing with the program he grew up watching, despite knowing Southern was on probation at the time and would not having enough scholarships for the McKinnley High School standout.

Fortunately, Tillery stuck with the Jaguars and finally was rewarded for his loyalty in one of Odum’s first actions as head coach in the spring of 2013.

“He earned it everyday and I’m thankful for him,” Odums said. “He’s the type of guy we try to bring into this program to make it better and he is part of those building blocks. I think when you look at him and see how hard he works, you can’t help but route for him.”

Now in 2014, Tillery has established himself as one of the centerpieces of the Jaguars offense and is considered one of the team’s biggest and most vocal leaders, especially as Southern is in the midst of a quarterback controversy between a pair of redshirt freshman.

The self-described “speed back” led the team last season with 855 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 184 carries and is poised to top that mark in the Jaguars’ new, run-heavy offense. But Tillery said he doesn’t care if he runs for two yards all season as long as Southern can repeat as SWAC champions.

“A lot of people came up to me saying, ‘Oh, you got a ring but you didn’t get 1,000 yards,’ ” Tillery said. “I’m not here for stats. If we win a championship, that’s all I want.”

But Tillery isn’t the only Jaguars tailback looking to make an impression on the offense this season, with junior running backs Malcom Crockett and Jamarcus Jarvis fighting for playing time as well.

Tillery said he loves the new competition and is looking forward to seeing what the other backs can do. He added that he’s currently working on improving his second and third steps after watching Crockett — a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh — during camp.

“If you can’t stand up to the competition, then I don’t think this is the game for you,” Tillery said. “You need to go work at McDonald’s or something.”