Tillmans sign with USM

Published 12:01 am Thursday, February 7, 2008

MEADVILLE — Three months ago it seemed only logical that the only scholarship papers cousins Josh and Bo Tillman of Franklin County would sign would be those of Ole Miss form.

They already had a family member starting for the Rebels in Marcus Tillman, and both were expected to follow his footsteps along the Walk of the Champions to Oxford.

A coaching change, another trip to the 3A State Championship plus an All-Star Game appearance opened both players eyes to creating their own legacy and on Wednesday morning both agreed Southern Mississippi, not Ole Miss, would be the place for them.

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The two All-State defensive signees helped give the Eagles one of the state’s most impressive classes on National Signing Day.

“I’m happy with my choice, my decision,” said Josh Tillman, who picked the Eagles over offers from Ole Miss and Auburn. “I’m glad this day is finally over. And I’m ready to start working, so I can make an impact for USM in the future.”

Last year as a powerful strong side defensive end, Josh registered 101 tackles and had a school record 20 sacks.

His first cousin Bo, a 6-6, 300-pound defensive tackle, made 88 stops and had 12 sacks last season for the Bulldogs. Bo is also the younger brother to current Ole Miss sophomore defensive end Marcus Tillman. Despite entertaining heavy interest from the Rebels and LSU, Bo picked the Eagles.

“Having the chance to play early and being closer to home were big factors,” said Josh, who de-committed from Ole Miss last month to open back up his recruitment. “When me and Bo visited USM two weeks ago, we had a good time and felt comfortable with the campus and the coaching staff.”

Another factor was new USM assistant coach Tony Hughes, a former South Natchez assistant football coach and boys track coach from 1986-88.

Hughes came to Southern Miss in December following three seasons at Ole Miss. Hughes recruited both Tillman cousins while he was at Ole Miss, before leaving. He resumed his recruiting of both players last month.

“Coach Hughes was pretty much the main factor,” said Josh. “When I committed to Ole Miss in July, he was the coach recruiting me. So when he left Ole Miss, that kind of opened up things for me again. I just weighed my options and after talking to him, coach Fedora, and my family, I felt USM was the place for me.”

Despite signing with the Eagles, both Tillman’s may still end up taking the junior college or prep school route, as neither has yet to qualify academically for NCAA clearance.

Elsewhere, Franklin County three-year starting linebacker/defensive back Carlos Johnson signed a scholarship with Belhaven.

Johnson, a 5-8, 170-pound sparkplug for the Bulldogs, racked up 94 tackles this season for FCHS.

Up at Co-Lin, former Franklin County standout D.J. Shaw, a 6-2, 290-pound defensive tackle, signed with nationally ranked West Virginia.

“This is the best day of my life,” said Shaw. “I’ve always dreamed of signing with a big Division I school, and now I have.”