published Friday, September 27th, 2013

East Ridge Pioneers thrive on Jo Jo Tillery's consistency

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    Quarterback Jo Jo Tillery practices Wednesday in the East Ridge High School gym.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Over the last three weeks, Jo Jo Tillery has completed more than 70 percent of his passes, thrown at least one touchdown pass and rushed for 100 yards in each of the three games.

Probably not coincidentally, East Ridge High School possesses a three-game win streak after beginning the season with back-to-back losses.

Pioneers coach Tracy Malone said the coaches' adage of quarterbacks getting too much of the credit and too much of the blame was quite true.

Tillery, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior, wasn't so sure about the blame but agreed readily about the credit.

"Those first two games -- I take the blame entirely for the first loss and a lot of it in the second game," he said. "The last three weeks? It takes 11 guys to make an offense, and I think so much credit over the last three weeks has to go to the offensive line."

It has been a concerted effort but one that has allowed Tillery to stand out.

"His play has improved, but it's also been the offensive line jelling, the backs doing a better job of knowing where they need to go, receivers blocking downfield and knowing their routes and the defense playing well," Malone said. "But we're just now beginning to see what Jo Jo's capable of doing."

Tillery went through ups and downs when he took over in Game 2 last year, and the woes continued in the first two games this year.

"Every one of us [coaches] would love to have a Peyton Manning -- a sheriff that walks in and says this is what we're doing and then goes out and does it -- but how many ever really get that?" Malone said. "Jo Jo has enough 'bite back' in him that he's fun to coach. He's a confident kid and he believes in his ability."

Tillery has learned that experience and trusting his coaches are great educational tools.

"Trust me. Coach says that all the time, and I'm so much smarter than last year," he said. "I realize so much is based on the quarterback, and I'm working to be smart with the position and with the team."

Earlier this year in practice, Malone explained a pass and route to Tillery and told him, "Trust me. Do it this way and we'll score."

Tillery remembers it well.

"We ran the play three times, and twice we got touchdowns," he said.

On the third one, despite a teammate's missed assignment, Tillery scrambled for a 30-yard gain.

"Yep, the quarterback gets too much credit and too much blame," Malone reiterated. "Jo Jo's doing a good job of sharing the praise with his teammates. He's still a 16-year-old dealing with blame and pressure, but I'm 39 and I still don't like dealing with blame and pressure."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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