Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel took the podium at SEC Media Days on Thursday in Atlanta and he did something that I think all college athletes will appreciate.

Heupel took some time to talk about Vols wide receiver Cedric Tillman and the improvements he made over the last year.

Tillman, a former three-star recruit from Las Vegas who signed with Tennessee during the Jeremy Pruitt era, had eight receptions for 124 yards during his first three seasons on Rocky Top. He was an afterthought even among Vols fans.

This past season, however, saw Tillman break out in a huge way. He caught 64 passes for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s the leading returning receiver in the SEC.

The major difference for Tillman, obviously, was Heupel’s offensive scheme. Tillman was put in great situations by Heupel and took advantage of those situations.

Tennessee Vols
Jul 21, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tennessee Vols player Cedric Tillman speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tillman’s dramatic improvement is an incredible selling point for Heupel when it comes to recruiting.

But instead of taking the credit for Tillman’s big year, Heupel gave all the credit to the player.

“Cedric Tillman, who a year ago nobody had really heard of, now he’s regarded as one of the best at his position at wide receiver in the entire country,” said Heupel on Thursday. “His work habits a year ago parlayed into him playing the way that he did.”

That might seem like a small thing, but it says a lot about who Heupel is as a person and as a coach. Heupel isn’t looking for praise from the media or his peers. He’s a head coach because he loves the players, loves seeing them develop, and loves winning games. That’s all that matters to him.

That approach extends to the way Heupel treats his players, which is something Tillman touched on during his time with the media on Thursday.

Tillman noted that Heupel regularly has 10 to 15 minute conversations with players. And he also pointed out that Heupel greets every single player before team meetings.

“It’s not an act,” said Tillman. “He really cares about having a relationship with his guys. He’ll talk about football, he’ll talk about other stuff.”

I’m sure there are some folks out there who have some complaints about Heupel for whatever reason. No coach is perfect. But one thing no one can say about Heupel is that he’s disingenuous. Heupel is a guy who always practices what he preaches.

Featured image via Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports