The culmination of what Andrew Tiller described as a long "roller-coaster ride" came Saturday afternoon when the New Orleans Saints called to tell the Syracuse offensive guard he was their sixth-round pick in the NFL draft.
The Central Islip grad, who was Newsday's 2006 Zellner Award winner as the best lineman in Suffolk County, was in Philadelphia to share the moment with his mother, Sharon.
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"It was crazy," Tiller said happily. "She cried when she found out the news . . . Words can't describe it."
It was a rewarding moment, too, for Central Islip coach Joe Taormina, who was the first to convince Tiller he had the talent it takes to reach the NFL.
"He didn't do much his junior year, which was my first year as head coach," Taormina said. "He turned it around as a senior by working in the weight room and starting to be a leader. He had it tough, not a lot of money, but he knew football could take him places. He's a great kid. I'm so proud."
Ticking off the twists and turns on his "roller-coaster ride," Tiller tracked his progress from Central Islip.
"Out of high school, I wasn't heavily recruited because of my grades," Tiller said. "I went to Nassau Community College and then I had a season-ending injury before my second year there. At Syracuse, I was overweight, but I overcame every obstacle thrown at me. So it's a blessing right now."
As a sophomore at Nassau, Tiller tore an ankle tendon and spent three months in bed. During that time, he ballooned to 408 pounds. He was recruited by Miami, Rutgers and Syracuse, but the best fit was with the Orange.
Nassau coach John Anselmo had been hired by Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, and Taormina knew both men well and trusted them to guide Tiller.
After three years playing for the Orange, the 6-4 Tiller is down to 328 pounds and stronger than ever, and he hasn't forgotten whom to thank.
"Coach Anselmo, I love that guy," Tiller said. "He's been there through thick and thin. Coach Marrone was an NFL guy who coached for the Saints and knows what it takes. He made me a technician."
Going back to the beginning, Tiller added: "Coach Taormina told me I had so much potential. Once he believed in me, I took flight."
As for Taormina, he's just excited to have a role model for Central Islip.
"Andrew represents the community very well," Taormina said. "He's an inspiration for our program."
Notes & quotes: In other draft news, WR Nick Toon of Wisconsin, the son of former Jets WR Al Toon, went to the Saints in the fourth round . . . Washington used a fourth-round choice on Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins to compete with second overall pick Robert Griffin III . . . Bill Belichick used the first six of New England's seven picks to repair his 31st-ranked defense . . . National champion Alabama had the most players drafted with eight, including six on defense. Oklahoma and Georgia tied for second with seven players each. Six schools had six players drafted, including Boise State, whose quarterback, Kellen Moore, went undrafted.