July 27, 2010 12:34:00 PM
Brittany Tillery was shocked when she found out she''d made the Gulf South Conference All-Decade softball team.
No one else was surprised.
The former Starkville Lady Jacket and Delta State outfielder received a text last week from former DSU head coach David Kuhn, notifying her of her selection.
"To me, that''s better than being a pro player," Tillery said. "The best of the decade? When I think about the players I competed against it makes the honor really special."
Tillery was a three-time All-GSC West selection and was selected to the GSC All-Decade second team. She finished with a .358 career average, 96 steals and 107 RBI.
Tillery is one of five former DSU players to make the list.
"All the girls on the list are game-changers," Kuhn said. "Brittany could change the game with just one swing or one play in the outfield. She knew how good she can be after her freshman year."
Kuhn recalls seeing Tillery play an ASA game while he was recruiting the Starkville native. Playing at 180 feet in center field, and with deeper fences than most fast-pitch parks, Tillery tracked down a hard-hit ball and made the catch.
"I knew right then I had to have her in my outfield," Kuhn said. "I never thought we''d have a chance to get someone like BT at Delta State. She could have easily played Division 1 softball in the SEC, Big 12 or wherever."
Stats and a reputation for speed and athleticism made Tillery a prime recruit, but Kuhn''s prized outfielder wowed the staff with her coach-like approach to the game.
"She always said what''s on her mind, was brutally honest and held her teammates accountable," Kuhn said. "You could just tell that the team was that important to her."
Kuhn knew Tillery had the makeup to be a coach, and just one year into her coaching career Tillery won the 2010 Class 6A state title with Madison Central as an assistant to former SHS teammate Kayla Watkins.
"When you play the game for wonderful coaches, you''re going to learn a lot," Tillery said. "And having played in college you know how hard you have to work to win. True enough, I had a great career at Delta State, but what I remember most is the 5:30 a.m. workouts, the blood, sweat and tears -- literally. Busted eye, broken fingers -- you''ve got to push yourself to the max."
Tillery got a rush from pushing herself to a level she''d never been before, and she''s turned that drive toward Madison Central''s softball team.
It''s a scenario neither Tillery nor Watkins could have predicted when they first met and became friends 12 years ago. Watkins graduated in 2003 and played at Mississippi College before taking over MC softball three years ago. Once Tillery completed her college eligibility, she reached out to a familiar face.
"Brittany and I have known each other for so long, and winning the state title is something we never did when we played together," Watkins said. "To step on the field as coaches is a little bit different, but we''re able to do a lot without having to communicate a lot. We compliment each other really well."
Watkins isn''t sure how long she''ll keep her longtime friend as an assistant, but she believes Tillery is "enjoying where she''s at right now."
Tillery is just willing to learn from her friend and continue building her reputation as a coach.
"There are a lot of good athletes around this area and in this state that won''t become great because they won''t push it to the max. Great athletes go beyond," Tillery said. "The girls I''m coaching now give me everything I ask for. I''m having a lot of fun right now."
1. MSU, Ole Miss post strong NCAA APR scores COLLEGE SPORTS
2. MSU men's tennis players win singles matches COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Auburn uses late push to beat Ole Miss COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Arizona edges Alabama to win women's golf title COLLEGE SPORTS