By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- All players like to have a little extra inspiration when they play, and for James Madison University linebacker Titus Till his inspiration comes in the sweetest form -- his daughter, Zahra.
"Zaza," as Till said he calls her, turned a year old this week and Till said she's all the motivation that he needs to get ready for each game.
"It's such a motivation," Till said. "She's so beautiful. If you saw a picture of her you would be motivated as well, if you played football. I just feel like she gives me a reason to play the game. Not just for myself, but I have to feed a family, essentially. It gives me that extra push and I'm thankful for it."
Till said he tries to talk to her about what he does, and even bought her a small football.
"I show her what I do," Till said "I'll get in my linebacker stance, and she'll get in the same stance -- it's funny."
Having so much motivation makes it a little easier for Till to work out in the offseason. Till, a redshirt junior, went back and forth all summer from Harrisonburg to his home in Upper Marlboro, Md.
He said he went back home on weekends so he could spend time with her.
"It's just hard being two hours from home," Till said. "I miss my daughter a lot. I miss my momma. It's the price you pay when you want to play football."
Till was much closer to home when he started his college career at the University of Maryland.
He started at safety in six games for the Terps in 2011, and was tied for sixth on the team in tackles (47).
While he was getting playing time at Maryland, Till decided it would be better for him at another school. So at the beginning of 2012, he and his Maryland teammate and Handley graduate Jeremiah Wilson decided to transfer to JMU.
Last year Till started nine games for the Dukes. He had 39 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss.
Till said he feels more comfortable having that first year at JMU under his belt.
"I feel like I've gotten closer to the team," Till said. "It seems everybody wants to come in as freshmen together, they've got their own brotherhood. And they're finally bringing me into it, too, now that me and Jeremiah [Wilson] have been here for a full year now. It's good to be included with all my teammates, and get ready to get rolling."
Till said he feels like he's improved a lot over the last year on making his reads and just becoming a smarter player.
Till said he's really excited for the season. JMU lost its last two games, keeping the Dukes from making the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Dukes return a lot on both sides of the ball, and Till said that he feels like they can go all the way this season.
"We're going to [the FCS championship game in] Frisco [TX]," Till said. "We're ready to get this thing rolling. When you're that close to winning ... the last game against ODU, we were here, we lose that game knowing that if we could have won that game we would have got in the playoffs -- it hurts. You need to bounce back off of that. We can have a great year this year. We know what we can do."
Till said it's tough being away from his daughter during the season and it makes the moments where he does see her even more special.
"Luckily, I was able to spend some time with her the day I had to report for [preseason] camp," Till said with a big smile. "Right before I left she gave me a thousand kisses, a thousand hugs."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org