PLAYER TO PLAY-CALLING… Back on His Home Turf
How many kids play the game of football, and later as an adult, get to coach others in the same sport? Actually, a lot of coaches were former players in their youth, but few have the opportunity to circle back around to lead athletes at their alma mater. After 28 years of coaching elsewhere, Loren Tillman, 1989 graduate of Rutherford High School, was named Head Football Coach for the Rutherford Rams — he’s now back on his home turf.
The Panama City native attended Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) before obtaining his degree at Florida State University (FSU) in Physical Education (PE). While at GCSC, he volunteered as a JV coach at Rutherford. “This gave me a chance to see if I really wanted to do this for a living,” shared Coach Tillman.
In 1995, the FSU graduate pursued his dream of coaching and has been in the top spot on the sidelines at three different schools, both in Varsity and Junior Varsity, but mostly as a Varsity head coach, and also as an Athletic Director and in the classroom teaching PE. His expertise isn’t limited to football — he’s also coached track, tennis, soccer, softball, baseball, and weightlifting. Before taking the HC position at Rutherford, he completed five years at Rosenwald Middle School, 14 years at Bozeman High School and three years at Wewahitchka High School.
Why did this 46-year-old pursue a career in coaching? “I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day. Athletics motivated me in school and I wanted to pass that on to others,” explains Coach Tillman. “It means a lot to me to come home to Rutherford. The administration has confidence that I can help bring the Rams back to the success we once experienced here.”
This latest opportunity for the seasoned HC doesn’t come without big challenges. In the 2016 football season, there were only about 20 total players in the football program; not enough to make a complete team. They didn’t have enough for a separate JV team — 100% of those kids had to play both sides of the ball; offense and defense. They now have about 15 players returning, but also 40 that completed spring practice and they averaged around 70 for workouts in the first half of this summer. “We still have some players that will spend time on both sides of the ball, but with better numbers brings better depth so they will hopefully not have to do that as much as before,” explains Tillman. “We expect to have 30+ for varsity and 40+ for JV.”
Tillman has a great respect for the returning players. “They’ve responded well to the new players and they know this will help us achieve so much more by playing a variety of athletes, which will allow them to play at an accelerated level if they’re more rested.”
I asked Coach Tillman what he thought was the biggest challenge he would face in taking over this program and he said, “To me, there is no challenge. I use positive rewards to motivate the players, but everything is a process from academics, to weights, to running and with the game itself. I want to teach young men to be men of character and I enjoy building relationships with the staff and community as well.”
Right now, time is their biggest hurdle. It takes time to build the relationships necessary for coaches and players in order to advance the program quickly and Tillman believes they’re going in the right direction with elementary and middle schools. “I feel like I have a step in the right direction because I grew up on the East side of Bay County and worked in the district for 19 years so there are relationships in place to be built upon,” said Tillman.
This lead coach has been extremely pleased with everything so far in the transition to the Ram’s new athletic leadership. His daily goal is to have fun and he feels if he accomplishes this, his assistant coaches will have fun too and that will spill over to the players in doing the same. “If they’re having fun, they will show up. If they show up, we can teach and make better students, football players, and men,” says Tillman. “I’ve been blessed with the staff we have put together. First, the character of the staff and their dedication and commitment to the young men, but secondly, for the support of the administration to help us build the program and instill Ram Pride into our students and community.”
I always like to ask coaches what they feel is the biggest benefit to being involved in sports. Coach Tillman had this to say. “Character — this is the foundation to everything. Athletics teach character, work ethic, dedication and teamwork in what you can accomplish as a group. My goal is to develop good men, good husbands, citizens, and fathers, as well as good students now and in the future. Football is what we are using to teach and develop all these other things.”
The coach offers this advice for young athletes contemplating the benefits of sports by saying, “Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Set a goal and work to achieve it. Make good choices each day to help you accomplish your goals.”
In Coach Tillman’s spare time he enjoys being with his wife, Wendy, and their four children, including two son-in-laws, along with fishing, watching sports, woodworking and relaxing on the beach. He’s also proud to follow former athletes that are now in Division I schools and other colleges, such as Jacob Martinez, Chandler Burkett, Jay Smith and Blake Harrison.
Rutherford’s new football insurgency means growth and that means a greater need for funds. It’s no secret that with mounting budget cuts each year in the school district, athletic programs across our county have adversely affected schools, the players, and their families. Rutherford could definitely use business sponsors or really, anyone wanting to help. Anyone interested in donating for the purpose of uniforms and equipment, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MVP wishes the best for the Rutherford High School athletic program and looks forward to seeing what they will do in the 2017 football season!