Photo: David McGregor. Peachtree Ridge's Torri Tillman is the Daily Post Field Performer of the Year.
Torri Tillman could hear the whispers when he stepped on the track.
Fans pointed fingers, opposing coaches scrutinized, his opponents cautioned to compete against the Peachtree Ridge athlete.
“I really didn’t let it get to me,” Tillman said. “I just concentrated executing my races and my events. Really, it didn’t affect me at all. I guess you could say it sort of fueled me. I didn’t want to do bad so they could talk about me.”
All County Track and Field
Runner of the year: Josh Brickell, Peachtree Ridge, Soph.
Won Class AAAAA titles in 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs
Field performer of the year: Torri Tillman, Peachtree Ridge, Sr.
Won Class AAAAA state title in long jump and 100-meter run, placed second in 200
Coach of the year: Venson Elder, Peachtree Ridge
Led Lions to Class AAAAA state championship, Region 7-AAAAA crown and Gwinnett County title
100: Devonte Lewis, Mill Creek, Sr.
Fourth at state, won county, second at region
200: Micah Reed, Parkview, Jr.
Fourth at state and third in 100, won region in 100 and second at region in 200
400: Justin Martin, Shiloh, Fr.
Fourth at state
110 high hurdles: Paul Beaty, Brookwood, Sr.
State champion in Class AAAAA, second at county, won region
300 hurdles: Justyn Shackleford, Berkmar, Sr.
State runner-up in AAAAA and won county, seventh in 110 hurdles
800: Sean Brennan, Brookwood, Sr.
State runner-up in 800 and 1,600
1,600: Steven Spevacek, Parkview, Sr.
Third at state in 1,600 and 3,200, third at county, second at region
3,200: Austin Boetje, Mill Creek, Sr.
State runner-up and second at region, fourth in 1,600
High jump: Malcolm Davis, Norcross, Sr.
State champion, won county
Long jump: Malcolm Davis, Norcross, Sr.
Third at state, won county
Pole vault: Wes Ayres, Wesleyan, Sr.
State champ in Class A with a record height of 14-7
Shot put: Tyler Cierski, Mill Creek, Sr.
Seventh at state, won county, won region
Triple jump: Alec McGehee, Duluth, Sr.
State runner-up, won county, won region
Discus: Dre Spearman, Mill Creek. Sr.
State runner-up, fourth at county, second at region
100: C.J. Moore, Buford, Jr.
State champ in Class AA
200: Eric Brown, Parkview, Jr.
Seventh in 200 at state and won region, eighth at state in 100 and second at county and region
400: Nino Mole, Parkview, Sr.
Eighth at state, third at county, second at region
110 high hurdles: Kitaro Lewis, North Gwinnett, Sr.
Won region title
300 hurdles: Nathan Dobbs, Grayson, Sr.
Sixth at state, second at region
800: Jackson Wearn, Brookwood, Sr.
Third at state, won county, won region
1,600: Andy Gonzalez, Collins Hill, Sr.
Sixth at county, third at region
3,200: Michael Giuliano, Brookwood, Sr.
Fourth at state, second at county
High jump: Elliot Abraham, Parkview, Sr.
Third at state, fourth at county, won region
Long jump: Alec McGehee, Duluth, Sr.
Second at county, third at region
Pole vault: Matt Morris, Peachtree Ridge, Jr.
State champion, fourth at county, won region
Shot put: Trevor Joyce, Mill Creek, Jr.
Third at state, fifth at county, second at region
Triple jump: Andrew Redhead, Dacula, Jr.
Third at state, second at county, won region
Discus: Joshua Williams, Shiloh, Sr.
Fourth at state, 11th at county, second at region
Tillman was the talk of the track and field season regarding his eligibility to compete his senior year. But by the time the state meet rolled around last month, Tillman was the focus of the conversations for other reasons after he put together the best performance at the Class AAAAA meet.
He won the state championship in the long jump to earn Daily Post Field Performer of the Year honors, adding a state title in the 100-meter run and a runner-up finish in the 200 as well.
His performance helped Peachtree Ridge to its first Class AAAAA state title.
“I just wanted to score a lot of points for the team,” Tillman said. “I didn’t do that good at state as far as my times. They weren’t even anything close to my PRs, or anything.”
Tillman transferred to Peachtree Ridge from North Carolina last March. His eligibility at his previous school was questioned this season, prompting opponents to say he shouldn’t be competing.
During his ninth-grade year, Tillman went through some rough times and medical issues that kept him from having a ninth-grade year of high school. He had to repeat his freshman year because he was rarely at school.
“That year was completely taken away from me for stuff I couldn’t control,” said Tillman, who spent one more year in North Carolina and then his family moved during the second semester of his junior year.
Tillman took third at the state meet in the 200 last year, but by this February, his eligibility was being questioned. He sought a hardship from the Georgia High School Association to allow him to compete this season and the organization granted it to him based on what happened in North Carolina.
“The kid really got a bad rap. A lot of people on the Internet were stating their opinions when they really don’t know the facts,” Peachtree Ridge coach Venson Elder said. “We talked a lot and explained how life is and it was something he had to grow from and become stronger. He stayed focused and did that.”
Tillman was constantly the talk on Internet message boards and postings on his Facebook page were sometimes even worse.
“They think I’m 20, 21 years old,” he said.
For the record, he turned 19 in December. According the Georgia High School Association, “To be eligible to participate in interscholastic activities, a student must not have reached his 19th birthday prior to May 1st, preceding his year of participation.”
If a student turns 19 prior to May 1, as Tillman did, the GHSA must grant special permission to compete after a hardship meeting.
“I’m really not worried about what people say,” Tillman said. “My mom and my dad told me people they are going to be talking. You just can’t really focus on that, really. I’m eligible. I’m old, but I’m still young enough to be competing in high school. People are going to talk, but it doesn’t bother me really.”
Tillman showed that on the track.
After missing the Gwinnett County meet with a hamstring injury, he came back to win five Region 7-AAAAA championships. That carried over into the state meet. Tillman claimed the long jump crown with a distance of 22 feet, 111⁄4 inches. He won the 100 in 10.69 seconds and was second in the 200 with a time of 21.33. He was also a member of the 400 and 1,600 relay teams that placed sixth and eighth, respectively. All of that helped Tillman score 32 points, making him the top individual scorer at the state meet.
“I’m very proud of Torri,” Elder said. “I think he matured a lot over the year and I think it’s going to help him in the long run.”
Tillman could probably thank his parents for a lot of his success. His father John competed for the U.S. in the triple jump in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. His mother Dawn was the NCAA record holder in the 100 and 200 while at LSU.
“He has a good blueprint to follow,” Elder said.
Tillman will take his talents to the University of South Carolina next season. It will be a fresh start for him. No more whispers and accusations from fans.
Just a clean slate and a chance to follow in his parents’ footsteps.
“That would be nice. I’m not gonna lie, that would be pretty cool if I did that,” Tillman said. “I just want to get faster, I want to improve. I just like to improve my marks and times.”