Almost fifty years ago, Paul Tilson, a former Everett Bulldog, was elected co-captain of the 1962 University of Tennessee Volunteers football squad.
“That decision was strictly a players’ vote, and it was an honor to be selected by my peers,” Tilson said. “It’s something I definitely felt good about.”
Since Tilson, a three year letterman at UT, last strapped on the chin strap, the game of football has changed significantly. Tilson played both offensive and defensive tackle for the Vols at just 210 pounds. This year, Tennessee’s projected starters at receiver weigh 200 and 215 pounds, respectively.
“Since they’ve got two platoons now, both offense and defense, and they have subs for them, the guys can be a lot bigger and carry a lot more bulk,” Tilson said, “and they are a lot bigger, a lot stronger and a lot faster than we were.
“We played both ways. The first team would play the first quarter and the first four minutes of the second quarter. Then the second team would play about four minutes, and the first team would go back in. That’s the way the second half worked, too.
“You had to be shape. We didn’t have 400-pound lineman then. They couldn’t have made it through a game.”
While at Everett, Tilson played tight end for three seasons before moving to fullback as a senior. It was not an easy transition to tackle when he first arrived at Tennessee.
“Our first day of freshman practice, they told us to line up where we played in high school and, well, I didn’t have much speed,” Tilson said. “I was primarily used to block in high school, but I lined up at fullback and stayed there about two days. We would run sprints, and I was always the last one, so they came to me and told me they were moving me to guard.
“Guards were fast then, too, because they had to pull a lot. So I played there two or three days, and I was the last one in sprints again. One of the coaches came over and said, ‘Paul we need more weight at tackle,’ and that’s how I became a tackle.”
Tilson would earn a degree in statistics from Tennessee. When his playing days ended, he went into computer programming, a field that may have changed more frequently than his position on the gridiron did during those freshman practices 50 years ago.
“When I first started, I worked for a textile company doing the payroll and all sorts of stuff on a mainframe computer with 8k of memory,” Tilson said. “In the last 15 to 20 years, technology has gotten to where you can’t keep up with it as programmer. You just have to pick an area of specialty and try to keep up with it.”
Even at 71, Tilson isn’t having any problems keeping up. The pace of modern technology notwithstanding, he enjoys the challenges of being a programmer. He finds deciphering the logic of programs a fascinating and interesting field. He’s retired from working at Oak Ridge but still works part time with a Knoxville-based company that primarily works on web systems for the U.S. Navy.
Tilson now spends most of his free time being a grandfather. The thrill of rushing the quarterback has been replaced by picking up his grandchildren, Mason and Conner, from school in the afternoons and spending the day with them.