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Josh Heupel details Cedric Tillman’s breakout season

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NCAA Football: Tennessee at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

If there was one bright spot for Tennessee on Saturday night against Georgia, without a doubt it was Cedric Tillman. The junior receiver has stepped right into the veteran receiver pipeline at Tennessee, following in the footsteps of Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer.

After catching just three passes last season, Tillman has been the unquestioned No. 1 from day one under Josh Heupel. The 6-3, 215 pound outside receiver now leads the team in receiving yards and is tied for the lead in touchdowns.

Tillman had eight career catches entering the season. With three games left to play, Tillman has 46 catches for 725 yards and six scores. He’s coming off of a dominant performance against Georgia — a game that saw him catch ten passes for 200 yards. That’s in addition to a 152 yard performance against Alabama.

Not bad for a guy who ranked outside of the top 1,500 players in the class of 2018.

“It really just dates back to when I first got here — that’s a guy that has been extremely focused on continuing to change his body, gain strength, and development inside the strength and conditioning area,” Heupel said of Tillman. “A guy that has probably spent as much or more time understanding what we are doing, right? I’m just talking about offensively, really being diligent and watching film, right? Then you get into spring ball and his first five practices, consistent in his work ethic—but you saw growth from first five, to second five, to third five.”

Tillman was a late add to the 2018 class after Jeremy Pruitt’s staff discovered him. Out of Las Vegas, Tillman was the 1,677th ranked player in the class, per 247Sports. He held offers from UNLV, Hawaii and Weber State before the Volunteers swooped in late. Despite several blue-chippers at the position, Tillman has not only played his way to the top of the depth chart, but he’s put himself on the NFL’s radar too.

“He has gained a ton of confidence and belief that he can be a really good wide receiver at this level,” Heupel continued. “Then you’ve seen him progress throughout the season because his work habits have consistently continued to grow. I say this to our football team a lot, the guys that put the most into it are the guys that get the most out of it. It doesn’t always happen immediately when you want it, but man, it rings true over time. I think his work and toughness and who he is has shown up in his season thus far.”

Tillman now has a chance to hit 1,000 receiving yards on the season, something that hasn’t been done at Tennessee since Justin Hunter back in 2012.

The NFL will certainly love seeing Tillman show out against elite competition. It’s entirely possible that the former two-star recruit will have an NFL decision to make after the season ends, which would be the perfect way for Tillman to cap off a very special season.

That would also give Heupel and receivers coach Kodi Burns quite the recruiting pitch to have in the holster for next year’s class.