ATLANTA - While talking and playing football Travares Tillman is as serious as they come. It's tough getting even a smile out of the senior.
Change the topic, and you'll see that he's a warm young man.
His opponents only see the serious side of the senior free safety, and that is what makes him Tech's top defensive returnee.
Tillman is preparing for his third year as a starter after a season that saw him earn a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. He was the team's second leading tackler with 82 including 17 against Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. Tillman also had eight breakups, an interception, a sack, and a blocked punt.
Bigger and better plays are expected from Tillman this season. Just look at the honors he has already been bestowed.
In addition to being an All-American candidate, Tillman has been selected preseason All-ACC. One of the top collegiate football preseason magazines rates him among the nation's top ten safeties, while The Sporting News considers him fifth best.
Tillman does not let talk go to his head. First and foremost, he remains team focused in his goals.
"I would love for us to win a national title," said Tillman. "Then maybe get some individual honors for myself."
Tillman is accustomed to accolades. He received those while he honed his athletic skills at Toombs County High School, not far from Savannah.
It's the home of the Vidalia Onion says Tillman.
Athletic skills will only carry one so far. Tillman knows this and believes his greatest personal development has come while at Tech.
"I think when I came here I had the athletic ability to play the position," said Tillman. "But my mental toughness is a lot stronger now, and that's been very important."
Tillman also understands that he owes an additional duty to his team.
"I want to be a leader on defense," said Tillman. "When things are going bad, I hope I can go say something to one of the players and bring him back up to the level he ought to be.
"Being a leader is very important to me. There are only two senior starters on the defense, and both of us have emerged as leaders."
Tillman's fellow senior is linebacker Chris Edwards. Both credit their development as leaders to the upperclassman they played with as freshmen and sophomores.
"The guys that really talked a lot, I really didn't (relate to them), but when I saw a player really practicing hard, that was something I told myself I wanted to do," said Tillman. "I want to practice every play hard.
"On the field I want to try and play every play hard.
"That is what I'm going to do this year. I'm going to lead by example more than being vocal. I'm not a very vocal person."
He might not be vocal, but they do say that actions speak louder than words, and Tillman is a man of action. Just ask the Notre Dame offense.
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