North Thurston (Wash.) High running back Lawyer Tillman is having a breakout season in the Pacific Northwest. The main catalyst to the Rams' offense, Tillman broke the 1,000 yard mark within the season's first six games ... before he rattled off four touchdowns and 245 yards rushing in a North Thurston victory on Friday.
When fans first see Tillman, he often get looks as if they've seen him before. Those glances come because it's hard to forget his father. The elder Lawyer Tillman was a former NFL wide receiver for the Browns and Panthers, though he's best known for one famous touchdown against Alabama, when the then-Auburn receiver scored on a reverse to knock off the Crimson Tide in the 1986 Iron Bowl rivalry game.
While most high school players with NFL parents grasp for links to their famous fathers, Lawyer Tillman Jr. wants to put his dad's achievements as far from himself as possible. According to the Tacoma News-Tribune, Tillman Jr. hasn't seen his father since he was in seventh grade, and it's clear that the high school senior's mother is the largest guiding influence in his life. The running back's parents divorced when he was young and Tillman Jr. refuses to talk about his father's prolonged absence.
Most importantly, Tillman Jr. wants to make it clear he is his own football player and not his father's second coming.
"I don't want people thinking that because he was good that's the reason why I have talent," Tillman told the News-Tribune. "I wanted to be me and not to be under his wing. ...
"All I can say is it's been because of hard work. I've worked hard to be where I am."
No one is questioning Tillman's work ethic. The senior back spent the summer doing wind sprints while dragging a 45-point weight on North Thurston's field. Earlier this season, Tillman broke North Thurston's single-game rushing record, gaining 310 yards and scoring four touchdowns against the Rams' crosstown rival, Timberline (Wash.) High.
As impressive as his football statistics are, Tillman's academic achievements are equally notable. The senior currently sports a 4.0 GPA and says he knows he wants to eventually work in special education, because, as he told the News-Tribune of special needs students, "I feel like I could communicate well with them."
Still, it's hard for North Thurston fans and opponents to see the star back and not think of his famous father. Both Tillmans boasted the same blazing speed -- Laywer Jr. has been clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- and the same muscular build that made Laywer Sr. a star tight end at Auburn and wide receiver in the NFL.
Despite all that, Tillman's teammates and coaches make it clear that hype about Tillman's genetic advantage is just that; hype. According to all, it's the back's hard work that sets him apart, as they told the News-Tribune:
"I don't know if we've had anyone who works as hard as he does," said Rocky Patchin, North Thurston's coach for 18 years.
"Every time he runs he gives it everything he's got," [North Thurston quarterback Ben] Broeker said. "He runs hard."