ATLANTA (Sept. 23) — Travares Arastius Tillman cringes every time he hears his unique first name pronounced incorrectly.
“I’ve probably heard it four or five different ways,” says Georgia Tech’s standout free safety, whose given name is correctly pronounced truh-VARR-us. The most common mispronunciation, and the one that piques him the most, is truh-VAIR-us.
“I’m not really sure if the name means anything,” says Tillman, who is usually known to his teammates as “Tee-Till.” “I just know that it was given to me by my great grandmother, so that’s special to me.”
Tech fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field hope to hear Travares Tillman’s name called–correctly, of course–after making a big play as the 10th-ranked Yellow Jackets (2-1, 0-1 ACC) host undefeated Maryland (3-0, 0-0 ACC) next Thursday in a nationally-televised clash on ESPN.
“Maryland is coming in here with a very good team,” says Tillman, Tech’s second-leading tackler with 22 hits, along with three pass breakups.
“They’ve always had a good running game, and they are passing the ball well, too. It will be a big challenge for us as a defense and for the whole team.
“We love playing on Thursday night with everybody watching,” continued Tillman, whose South Georgia hometown of Lyons is far from the bright lights of Atlanta.
Head coach George O’Leary has penciled the name Travares Tillman into the Tech starting lineup for a team-high 28 straight games, dating back to the final contest of 1995, when he started at cornerback against Georgia. Since then, he spent a year at strong safety before moving to free safety last season.
“There’s no question that Travares Tillman is the leader of the defense,” says O’Leary. “He comes to the practice field every day ready to work, and that shows in his play.”
This season, he is one of only two seniors on the starting defense and the veteran of a secondary that includes a sophomore at strong safety and a freshman at cornerback.
“I make all the calls in the secondary, and I try to help them out any way I can,” says Tillman. “In practice especially, I try to stay in their ears and encourage them as much as possible.”
Another place where Tillman’s name can be found is on the list of preseason nominees for the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation’s top defensive back, as well as on several all-America checklists.
“It’s an honor to be considered for awards, but the success of the team is more important,” says Tillman, a second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection a year ago.
Tillman, 6-2 and 190 pounds, is also etching his name into the Georgia Tech record book. After three games this season, he has upped his career tackles total to 202, which ranks 13th in Tech annals among defensive backs. With just six tackles against Maryland, he would jump into ninth place, and the career record of 267, set by consensus all-America Ken Swilling from 1988-91, is within reach.
Entering the season, Tillman had more career tackles than any other returning defensive backs in the ACC and ranked eighth nationally among all defensive backs.
The soft-spoken Tillman can deliver a loud hit, and he has shown the ability to come up with big plays, including six career interceptions. Last season, he blocked a punt against NC State that Tech returned for a touchdown, and the year before, he returned a blocked punt for a score versus Clemson.
Just make sure you say his name correctly when you pat him on the back.
Georgia Tech’s Career Leaders
Tackles by Defensive Backs
Player Years No. Needs1. Ken Swilling 1988-91 267 662. Mark Sheffield 1979-82 244 433. Lethon Flowers 1991-94 238 374. Riccardo Ingram 1984-87 232 315. Cleve Pounds 1982-85 227 266. Mike Dee 1993-96 223 227. Mike Wysong 1968-70 215 148. Lawrence Lowe 1977-80 212 119. Andre Thomas 1985-88 207 6 Anthony Harrison 1983-86 207 611. Ken Taylor 1978-80 205 412. Randy Rhino 1971-74 203 213. Travares Tillman 1996- 202