Bluffton High School has had its fair share of talented running backs in its short history. Which always made the Bobcats' inability to run the football even more puzzling.
For three years, Chris Tillotson had to hear his offensive line blamed for the problems.
As a senior, Tillotson and the Bobcats have run the football with more success than the school has ever experienced. They have rushed for 2,665 yards on the year and are averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Tillotson, the team's center, is the only returning starter among the five linemen.
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As the Bobcats (10-1) head into the second round of the Class 3-A playoffs, The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette caught up with Tillotson to discuss the key to the ground game, the key to the Bobcats' turnaround this year and the key to advancing in the postseason, beginning with today's matchup against A.C. Flora.
Question: Why is this team's rushing attack so much better this year?
Answer: I think it's the mentality of the guys. We have the skills I don't think we had. But the discipline is the big factor when it comes to learning your plays and executing the block.
Q: How has your role changed with Ken Cribb's Wing-T offense?
A: I had to become more of a leader and help everybody learn it. I was paying such close attention when we learned this offense that I was learning everybody's assignments, not just mine, so I could help everyone learn what they had to do.
Q: From an outside perspective, the offense looks pretty complicated. How complicated is it from your point of view?
A: It's not too bad, actually. There are a lot of plays, but they're really similar. A lot of them have the same blocks. You just have to do some memorizing.
Q: What is it like playing in this offense compared to years past?
A: It's a lot more fun. We get some big plays, and we score a lot. We know it's because we're making our blocks. Before, we always got sacked in the backfield and tackled for losses. We really don't have too many of those. To know that when we score, it's because we blocked it right usually, that makes it fun.
Q: Yeah, except you guys don't usually get the attention -- does that bother you?
A: You get used to it. It's something you understand as an offensive lineman. You don't get the recognition that you should. It doesn't really matter, I don't think. We don't let it bother us.
Q: At least as the team's center you get to handle the ball though, right?
A: I think the best part about is I can use that to make myself look better. When people ask me what I do, I say, 'I'm the one who starts the whole play. Without me, there's no football.' It makes me sound important.
Q: Well, with a timing-based offense, your job does seem important.
A: I have to pay attention a lot more. We'll change the count, and I have to know when to hike the ball. It's all on timing. That's what makes the offense so dynamic. If you get the perfect timing, it's unstoppable.
Q: With four new starters on the line, how long did it take you guys to jell as a unit?
A: It took us a good month to really get it down. It's different from anything we've done before. We're constantly putting in new plays. You have to work together as a line to learn them. What's different from the past, though, is we all get along. We're great as a unit. We all help each other. It's a better environment for success.
Q: That seems to be just one of the many keys to this team's turnaround. What has it been like to be part of this school's breakthrough season?
A: It's been great. Growing up and playing with all these losing seasons, it wears on you. So I don't think any of us really believed this at first. It's amazing that we're 10-1 and we've made it this far.
Q: How did it feel getting the opportunity to play in your first postseason game -- and win it -- Friday against Lakewood?
A: It was really weird because it's new to all of us. We've never done it before, you know. It was a whole new situation because we've never played with someone at that level. We've never experienced the importance that comes with a playoff game.
Q: Did you learn anything about the key to winning playoff games?
A: One thing I noticed is that practice has to be more perfect. We're working as hard as we can at practice to execute in the game.
Q: Stepping aside from football for a second, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A: If I have free time, I play guitar. I'm a singer/songwriter.
Q: Really? You write your own songs?
A: I write my own stuff. That's what I really love to do. But I'll play a lot of other writers' stuff, too.
Q: What type of music?
A: It depends on what mood I'm in. I play a lot of different stuff and listen to a lot of different stuff, so it depends what mood I'm in. Mostly I play a lot of acoustic stuff, like Jack Johnson and stuff like that.