Tennessee Vols wide receiver Cedric Tillman was one of UT’s best players in 2021.

Tillman led the Vols in receiving last season, catching 64 passes for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Not bad for a player who only had eight receptions for 124 yards the previous three seasons combined.

Tillman is the SEC’s leading returning wide receiver this fall. He’ll look to pick up where he left off in 2021 and raise his draft stock while helping Tennessee improve on their 7-6 record from last season.

There’s no doubt that Tillman, a Las Vegas, NV native, is one of the Vols’ most important players in 2022. What’s wild is that he almost didn’t earn a scholarship offer from anyone coming out of high school.

In fact, the only reason he’s at Tennessee — a program he never visited during the recruiting process — is because of Jeremy Pruitt’s first offensive coordinator in Knoxville.

Tillman appeared on 104.5 The Zone’s 3HL on Thursday at SEC Media Days in Atlanta and he explained how he ended up on Rocky Top.

“The USC coach, a couple of days before signing day, I really had nowhere to go, I was going to walk on somewhere, he asked me where I was going,” said Tillman. “I told Coach Clay Helton, at the time at USC, ‘I don’t know coach’ and he said ‘well you’re too good not to know, you’re either going to go to USC or Tennessee’. His brother (Tyson Helton) had just become the OC for Tennessee, the next day they offered me. And that was the only team to offer me.”

“Right before signing day, they offered me. And a couple of teams tried to reach out then, but man, I just wanted a chance. I just wanted a team to take a chance on me. And a powerhouse SEC school took a chance on me. [I] never took a visit to Tennessee. Just talked to the coaches, rolled the dice and it’s working out.”

Tyson Helton only spent one season at Tennessee as an assistant before landing the head coaching job at Western Kentucky (he’s coming off a 9-5 season there and he’s 23-16 in three seasons so far). But his impact on the program is still being felt via Tillman.

Some of the best stories in sports happen because of chance. The Vols had some spots open after a coaching change in early 2018. If not for that coaching change, the decision by Pruitt to hire Helton, and some open spots in a recruiting class, then there’s no telling where Tillman would be playing today.

Things may not have worked out for Pruitt at Tennessee, but it’s certainly worked out for Tillman and the Vols.

Featured image via Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports