Move to defense paying dividends for Tiller, ETSU

By Allen LaMountain
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

   JOHNSON CITY -- After being recruited from Stephenson High School in Lithonia, Georgia, as a wide receiver, sophomore Tony Tiller is now paying the East Tennessee State Buccaneer football program dividends as a cornerback.
   Tiller leads the team and is second in the Southern Conference to the Citadel's Kevin Howard -- who has five -- with four interceptions on the season.
   "When I went to spring training, they had told me before that they wanted me to line up at (defensive back)," Tiller said. "We lost some senior corners last year, and I had played the position in high school."
   The transition has seemed to have been a smooth one for Tiller, but it has required a lot of hard work. "I had to put on a few pounds and learn the techniques of the position at the next level," said Tiller. "It's not an easy transition. Cornerback is probably the hardest position on the field to learn."
   With the Bucs offense struggling, Tiller knows that it is going to be up to the defense to step up and keep ETSU in games until the offense can catch fire.
   "We look at it like the coaches say, 'Our defense has to match the opponents defense. If they force our offense three-and-out, then we have to force their offense three-and-out.'" said Tiller.
   The Bucs defensive backfield has held up well this season despite being a very young squad, but as Tiller says, "You are no longer young when you get on the field. You have to grow up fast. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or sophomore, when you get on the field you are expected to do your job."
   With Georgia Southern's punishing ground attack coming to Memorial Center on Saturday night, the Bucs defensive backfield will have to be at it's best to hold the A-Train Adrian Peterson in check.
   "Cornerback isn't just about getting interceptions," said Tiller. "We will be expected to hold the corner and not let Peterson get wide on us. We'll have to step up and make sure tackles, because he is all about second effort, and breaking arm tackles."
   One positive about the youth on the Bucs is that they may take some lumps this season, but the young kids are getting playing time and can only get better for it.
   "We are not only young in the secondary, but on defense as a whole," Tiller said. "We will probably return our entire defense, and a good portion of our offense, so we expect to give people a tough time in the next few seasons."
   Not that Tiller or the Bucs are counting themselves out of it this year, realizing that after the Eagles, the rest of the ETSU schedule is very winnable.
   "Everybody on the team has high hopes after this next game coming up," commented Tiller. "We want to go into every game with the mindset of knowing we can win. The coaches expect that and we expect that of ourselves."
   With games against the number one and number two passing offenses in the SoCon -- VMI and Chattanooga-- coming up, Tiller's growing experience and big play ability could spell the difference in these contests.
   Tiller credits his days as a receiver for his quick transition to defensive back also saying, "It helped me a lot playing receiver last season. The small things a receiver does, I can recognize and close in on quickly. Every day I'm learning more and more, and as coach Farrington says, 'If you see a big play, make it.' and that's what I try to do."
   Tiller -- whose mother Lee travels to Johnson City for each home game -- is enjoying his ETSU experience and will be a force in the Bucs defense for years to come.