River Bluff’s Brandon Tillmon has not missed a beat since high school football practice began earlier this month. The senior left-handed quarterback has transitioned after spending most of his summer playing outfield and pitching right-handed for his travel baseball team.
That’s correct – Tillmon is a left-handed quarterback and a right-handed baseball player. Athletes at the highest level have a hard time achieving such a feat, but it’s something Tillmon has done since he was 7 years old.
“It was just something I taught myself,” Tillmon said. “I wanted to be a catcher, and my dad told me I couldn’t do that if I was left-handed. From that day, I just picked up a baseball and started to throw it right-handed. I did it so much, it became natural.”
Ricky Tillmon, Brandon’s father and a standout athlete in his own right at Brookland-Cayce in the early 1990s, remembers that day.
“I told him he could pitch, play first or play the outfield, but he was set on being a catcher,” the elder Tillmon said. “So, I told him he had to start throwing right-handed, or he couldn’t catch. He picked the ball up and threw it to me right-handed. I was shocked. I threw it back to him and told him to do it again. He threw it right back like it was natural. He just went with it from there.”
Success has followed. Tillmon threw for 1,478 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for 1,269 yards and 16 touchdowns in leading River Bluff to the playoffs in its first season of varsity competition. In baseball, he batted .414 with seven home runs despite several teams pitching around him.
“He’s a very unique athlete,” River Bluff football coach David Bennett said. “My first thought when I saw he could throw a baseball nearly 90 mph right-handed is he should be able to throw a football right-handed. He can’t. But to be able to do the things he does on both the football and baseball field shows that he’s a special, special athlete.”
River Bluff baseball coach Mark Bonnette has been around Tillmon’s whole life. Bonnette and Ricky Tillmon roomed together at Newberry, and Bonnette is Brandon’s godfather.
“Brandon has been a part of my family since he was born,” Bonnette said. “We thought he was going to be left-handed, but as he got older, we could tell he could do things right-handed. I think it’s sort of freakish in the way he’s developed. I don’t know many people that can do the things that he can do. When you see him throw a baseball right-handed then pick up a football and throw it left-handed, you are sort of in awe.”
According to the American Psychological Association, 90 percent of the population is right handed with the remaining 10 percent being either left-handed or have some degree of being ambidextrous. People with true ambidexterity – no dominant hand at all – make up about 1 percent of the population
Some people have the ability to exhibit ambidexterity in particular areas but have a preferred hand for most tasks.
Tillmon’s dominant hand is his left. He usually eats left-handed and writes left-handed but throws a baseball and bats right-handed.
He’s had opportunities to throw a football right-handed, but it usually doesn’t turn out well.
“I could throw a football right handed, but I throw it too much like a baseball,” he said. “It looks kind of ugly.”
Tillmon (6-foot, 207 pounds) is projected to play safety in college and committed to Liberty earlier this summer. He drew interest from higher profile schools – Clemson, South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest – to play both sports, but no one committed to putting that offer on the table. So when the Flames came calling, they offered a football scholarship with the promise of baseball as long as he maintains his grades.
“When I went to Liberty for a visit, the facilities were amazing,” Tillmon said. “They said for certain they would let me play both sports. Coach (Turner) Gill played both in college. I know coach (Jim) Toman really well. When he was at South Carolina, he and my dad were good friends and still are today.”
There is a solid chance Tillmon will be drafted in next year’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, so he could face a bigger decision. Both he and Ricky Tillmon felt Liberty was a great fit but couldn’t understand why a more solid offer didn’t come from any of the instate schools.
“If I receive any offers that are worth looking at – by that I mean offering the same package as Liberty – I will weigh the pros and cons and talk it over with my family,” Brandon said. “As of right now, I don’t see a better offer than Liberty.”