WEST PORTSMOUTH — West’s Eli Tilley, truth be told, was highly motivated —not just for football, but improvement upon his former home life.
By recently putting pen to paper, and officially committing to Ashland University to play college football, Tilley takes the next step — and a giant one — in doing just that.
That’s because the six-foot three-inch and 203-pound Tilley, a Division V third-team all-Ohio defensive lineman as a senior, has announced his intention to play for the Eagles — an NCAA Division II program and a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Tilley, recruited as a defensive end by Ashland and head coach Lee Owens, made it official as part of a recent joint signing ceremony with West teammate Luke Wroten — who inked the same day at West with Muskingum.
Tilley, who recorded 77 tackles his senior season including 24 for loss with seven sacks, captured the Southern Ohio Conference’s Division II Defensive Player of the Year honor — en route to first-team all-Southeast District Division V defensive line accolades.
He also forced two fumbles, broke up a pass, and tackled Portsmouth quarterback Drew Roe in the end zone for a game-cinching safety in the Senators’ rivalry win over the Trojans.
The case could easily be made for Tilley that he was indeed one of the best defensive players in the entire Southeast District.
For himself, he made it “my goal to be the best defensive player by my senior year”.
”I’ve been pushing harder than ever to make myself ready to play at the college level. I couldn’t imagine not having any more football left. So I’m not done,” said Tilley. “I’m excited to become the best player I can be and I think Ashland is gonna push me to be great.”
A winner of seven letters so far for football and track and field at West, Tilley told The Portsmouth Daily Times that deciding upon Ashland was “a tough decision and there were some other schools,”, but he is excited about his choice — and the opportunities which await.
“I talked to several schools, but Ashland and Indiana Wesleyan both felt like good fits for me. Ashland was more affordable and have several solid recruits in my class that I’m excited to compete with,” he said.
While Tilley could play either end or even tackle along the Senators’ defensive front, he said he will primarily play end for the Eagles.
“Their defensive ends drop into coverage a lot, so it’s kinda of like a defensive end mixed with an outside linebacker,” he said.
Tilley talked also about his football development — from forgetful freshman season to a standout senior campaign.
“My freshman year, I was 150 pounds, unmotivated, and only played because my family expected me to. After my freshman season, I decided I was going to be the best on the team by my senior year. I worked hard, ate 3,500 calories a day with 80 grams of protein minimum, and missed out on a lot because I made sure I slept eight hours every night,” he explained.
By the time Tilley was a senior, he indeed opened many eyes — and turned many heads.
“It’s been a real privilege to get to coach Eli all four years. He has just an incredible work ethic, and took every opportunity that he was given to make himself the best football player he could be. That along with the God-given talent that he has, just made himself into a dominant player his senior year. The leadership that he provided, leading by example and being not only one of the most gifted players but also one of the hardest workers, that just sets the tone for the entire team,” said West coach Ben Johnson. “You couldn’t get him off the field this past year. He had a motor that wouldn’t stop, both defensively and offensively. He did an outstanding job for us, and he was rewarded with Defensive Player of the Year in the SOC (SOC II). That was a great honor for both him and the team. I was really proud of him for earning that.”
As a team, Tilley spoke of the Senators’ vast improvement — from 2-8 in 2019 to 6-4 last season, which included a Division V Region 19 playoff victory over Chesapeake.
“I loved playing for West. We really felt like a family this year and we had a senior class who was respected because of our work ethic,” he said. “I believe we led by example, and the younger kids pushed hard because that was just the environment we created.”
But Tilley said “satisfaction” is not a word in his vocabulary.
“I’m not satisfied with any part of my game. I can improve in all areas. I’ve been focusing on explosiveness, power cleans and sprints twice a week,” he said.
He’s also been improving upon his former, and even tragic, upbringing —and thus plans to major in psychology with intentions on becoming a psychiatrist.
“I’ve had a rough home life and because of substance abuse, I lost both my parents and live with my friend. I want to help kids in similar positions that I was in,” said Tilley.
His decision to attend and play football for Ashland will only aid in his continued improvement and development —both on the gridiron and away from it.
That’s because he works hard, and is highly motivated.
“I know whatever Eli chooses to do from here on out, he is going to be very successful at, because of the work ethic and character that he has,” said Johnson. “I am just proud I got to be a small part of his life these past four years.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved