This column on former Arizona State Sun Devil and Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman, who later served in the U.S. Army and died in Afghanistan in April 2004, appeared in the State Press, ASU’s student newspaper on Aug. 27, 1998.

Gutsy Tillman proves worth to Cardinals

Ex-Sun Devil standout carries intensity to NFL

By Ed Odeven

The pessimists, commonly referred to as scouts or “talent evaluators,” claimed he was too small.

They said he was too slow. They said he wasn’t athletic enough. They said he didn’t have what it takes to be a National Football League defender.

Y’all were wrong.

Pat Tillman has what it takes to be a solid contributor to the Arizona Cardinals defense. The team has enough faith in the 1997 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year to promote him to first-unit linebacker in nickel situations — which it did on Wednesday. And to make him a second-unit safety.

Just ask Arizona defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis.

“(He’s) one of my favorite guys,” McGinnis said candidly after Thursday morning’s practice at the team’s Tempe training facility.

“The reason we drafted Pat and the reason we like him when we went to ASU to work him out is he’s a football player. And watching him play all his games last year, we knew the guy was a football player. We weren’t really too concerned with his stature. He made plays.”

That characteristic remains as much a part of the compact 5-foot-11, 204-pound Tillman’s persona as his shoulder-length hair and down-to-earth persona.

“I love his intelligence,” McGinnis said. “I like his approach to the ball game. I don’t want to put too much pressure on Pat Tillman saying ‘he’s going to be this, or he’s going to be that,’ but he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do so far. He’s just what I thought he was. He is a football player.”

Apparently McGinnis and ASU head coach Bruce Snyder think alike.

Snyder praised Tillman’s work ethic, go-for-broke mentality and leadership countless times last season.

He is anything but complacent.

“He wants to do it right” McGinnis said. “He wants to do well. Mistakes don’t bother him. He plays all out. He’s a very tough, physical guy…”

Still, Tillman’s not convinced he will make the team, according to his ex-ASU teammate and current Arizona teammate Jake Plummer.

“He comes down here with the attitude that he’s not going to make the team’s final cut,” said the popular quarterback. “…I’m like, ‘You’re crazy!’ ”

“He’s kind of like myself, not built really for the game. He loves the game. He’s got instincts and he just goes out and reacts,” and runs into whoever is in his way.”

The Arizona coaching staff envisions Tillman becoming a special teams demon — a kamikaze with shoulder pads. And the fans yearn for more of the same: big plays from all over, whether they be pass deflections, fumble recoveries, interceptions or quarterback sacks. As long as No. 40 is there doing what he does best, i.e. giving it his all all the time.

You still need to be convinced? Tillman does.

“I’m trying,” he said, to earn his paycheck and a permanent spot on the Arizona roster, “but I’m not going to get too excited yet.”

The fans at Sun Devil Stadium will every time he steps onto the gridiron.