Laurel High football player fights for more than just a state championship

LAUREL, Miss. - Friday night lights is a time for high school athletes to shine.

Laurel High School has had an incredible season so far and free safety, Matthew Tillman has a lot to do with that.

“I can play the game. I love the game. I’m talented and I help this team a lot. I get better and better. In every practice, I get better and better. Just trying to get to the top,” said Tillman.

Tillman is a big, strong physical player with a lot of athleticism who can make plays consistently. And this is just his first year playing on the team.

“I love it. I mean it feels like the best thing that ever happened,” said Tillman.

Playing for the Golden Tornadoes has been a great experience for Tillman. But, when he was in middle school, one of his greatest fears was realized when his mother got sick.

“It’s hard knowing that your mother is down. But, me and her talk to each other and push through it,” said Tillman.

Both Tillman and his mother, Angela carry the sickle cell trait. But, his mom also has the disease.

Sickle cell disease is a disorder in which red blood cells contort into a sickle shape, causing the cells to die early, resulting in infections, pain, and fatigue.

“I lost one of my lungs. Now, I’m currently having to take heart medicine,” said Angela.

Various fluids surrounded her lung, which caused her heart to do more work than it normally should. And about every two weeks, she feels discomfort, which forces her to go to the hospital for treatment.

“I get down sometimes about it. But when I get here, they lift you up, and you’ll be on your feet,” said Tillman.

Head coach, Todd Breland said, “We help him out as much as we can and allow him the time he needs to be with her when she’s going through hard times. It’s really an amazing thing to watch a son how much he cares about his mom.”

Tillman is trying to obtain a college football scholarship. But if that doesn’t happen, he has sights on attending Ole Miss or Mississippi State.

He aspires to major in business and receive a college degree, which is something his mother really wants for him.

“For all the things that he goes through, he has a great attitude about life,” said Angela.

Winning a state championship and seeing his mother 100 percent healthy is something he desperately wants.

“I’ll love it. It keeps me motivated and I’ll love to go all the way and win it all,” said Tillman.

Laurel will play Hattiesburg at home Friday and are hoping to win and advance to the MHSAA Semifinals.

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