Graham, Tillery sign letters of intent

By Staff
Mike Self
Franklin County Times
The question clearly made Rashad Graham uncomfortable.
When asked to name the best lick he ever laid on an opponent, Russellville's hard-hitting-and humble-defensive back fidgeted nervously for a couple of seconds before a shy smile began to creep across his face.
He seemed reluctant to reply, but that's when defensive coordinator Jake Linville chimed in.
"Tell him about that hit against Florence," Linville said. "Or what about the one on that kid from Hartselle? There are definitely quite a few that stand out in my mind."
Don't let Graham's modest build (he's listed at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds) fool you-he packs a wallop. Just ask anybody who's been on the receiving end of a Graham hit, provided they've had time to regain their memory.
"That hit against Hartselle was pretty good," he finally admitted.
Graham will take his physical style to the college level next season after signing a letter of intent with Division I-AA Southern Illinois University on Wednesday.
Graham, whose 62 tackles (54 solo) helped earn him the Golden Tigers' Hardest Hitter Award this past season, said he is looking forward to being a Saluki.
"They've got a great football program," he said. "They've won their conference the past three years."
In addition to making several highlight-reel hits, Graham also turned heads at Russellville with his athleticism. Despite the tendency of opposing teams to steer clear of him in the passing game, Graham picked off two passes as a senior and returned one of them for a touchdown.
"The play I'll always remember with Rashad is the interception he made against J.O. Johnson during the regular season," Russellville head coach Perry Swindall said. "It was right before halftime, and they tried to throw one over him in the end zone. Rashad jumped way up in the air and tipped the ball to himself. He caught it and then came down flat on his back. It was an unbelievable play."
Graham said his primary goal between now and next season is to get bigger. Perhaps he should take some advice from teammate Taz Tillery, whose unsurpassed work ethic in the weight room is one of the main reasons he'll be joining Graham at the college level next season.
"Without the weight room, I wouldn't be where I am today," said Tillery, an offensive lineman who signed on Wednesday with Division I-AA Tennessee-Martin, an Ohio Valley Conference school near the Kentucky border. "It wasn't like I was working out one day a week or something. I was in the weight room six days a week trying to get bigger and stronger. If I hadn't done that, I'd still be a little bitty guy."
Imagining the 6-foot-2, 275-pound Tillery as a "little bitty guy" is almost as challenging as going toe to toe with him at the line of scrimmage.
"The thing I'll always remember about Taz is that whoever was going up against him at defensive end in practice was going to get crushed," Swindall said. "Taz didn't care if it was a freshman just trying to survive or one of our starting defensive ends. He was going to try and knock them off the ball and just crush them. He always went full-speed until the whistle blew."
Tillery's relentless style earned him an invitation to the North-South All-Star game after his junior season and an All-State selection as a senior. Still, it's not the accolades or awards he'll remember most about his playing days at Russellville.
"The thing I'll remember most is running out of the tunnel before a game," Tillery said. "My cousin, Casey [Morgan], and I always ran out together. That's something I'll never forget."
Tillery, a tackle at Russellville, said he expects to play guard at UT-Martin.
Swindall said that Tillery and Graham both made their mark at Russellville on and off the field.
"They're both great guys and great high school football players," Swindall said. "They both make good grades, and they're the type of kids who have always intended to be college graduates. We're definitely going to miss them. Russellville was lucky to have two such high-caliber people."

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