Focusing on baseball, Gilman's Matt Tilley ready for the next step

Gilman's Matt Tilley
(Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Matt Tilley hasn't had much free time outside of practice this year. In fact, Gilman baseball coach Larry Sheets said the senior has taken just two days off since August -- both between the football and basketball seasons and none between the basketball and baseball seasons.

Such is the life of a three-sport athlete. And he hasn't just participated in football, basketball and baseball -- he has excelled in all three.

He played wide receiver and free safety for the Gilman football team that won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference last fall, served as captain for the basketball team that was one win away from winning its second consecutive MIAA B Conference title in the winter and stars all over the field for the No. 10 Greyhounds in baseball.

Eventually, though, he had to make a choice about his athletic future.

Matt received offers to play football and baseball in college, but he didn't want to split his time between the sports any longer. He wanted to narrow his focus and choose one on which to concentrate. Entering his senior baseball season at Gilman, that's exactly what he did.

"With either path I chose, I think I would have been able to excel, work hard and do big things at the next level," said Matt, who committed to William and Mary to play baseball next year. "But [baseball] is the sport I wanted to pursue. I've been playing it my whole entire life."

Matt's father, Glenn Tilley, figured all along that his son would choose baseball, even though different family members performed in each sport at a high level.

Glenn played football at Princeton, while his brother played at Wake Forest. His wife's brother and nephew both played baseball in the Orioles organization.

While Matt excelled on the football field at Gilman, he didn't even start playing the sport until his freshman year of high school. He grew up around baseball, however.

His father works as the president of Ripken Baseball, and Matt has played the game since he was a child. It shows when he's out in the field, too.

Matt plays both outfield and shortstop, and he also serves as the Greyhounds' closer. Matt describes himself as a gap hitter at the plate, but Sheets said he has the ability to hit for power. He displayed that all-around talent last season, batting .400 with four home runs, 16 RBIs, nine doubles and three triples.

"I love every position," Matt said. "I love being that guy who can be the utility guy and play whatever position you need. Whatever way I can help the team, I'll do it."

His versatility comes from his rare athletic abilities, Glenn said. Matt has the strength and power you'd expect from a 6-foot-4, 190-pound athlete, but he also has the skills of a much smaller player.

"He plays the skill positions and the speed positions," Glenn said. "Which I think is unique for a kid his size."

That uniqueness is why he had the choice to play both football and baseball in college.

Georgia Tech, Tulane, Navy and Princeton wanted him to play football, while Maryland, Michigan and Rutgers also showed interest. William and Mary, Wake Forest, Brown and Princeton looked at him for baseball.

If he didn't spend large parts of his sophomore and junior seasons on the sideline due to a pair of serious injuries, Matt might have picked football over baseball.

During the summer before his sophomore year at Gilman, he dislocated his right big toe and wasn't able to return to the field until the end of the football season.

Matt recovered to play basketball and baseball, but he developed a stress fracture in his lower back and was sidelined again for 16 weeks. He played wide receiver when he returned in his junior season, but he wasn't able to play safety -- his primary position -- until the MIAA A Conference championship.

"He never complained. He never whined, never said anything negative, and he just kept his focus and said, 'I'll work through this,' " Glenn said. "This is the type of man he is."

But despite his ailments, Matt kept coming back.

"It took a lot of patience on my part and on my coaches' part," Matt said. "My coaches stayed true to me with these injuries. They trusted me, and they knew when I came back, I'd be committed and ready to go."

Even when he decided he was going to play baseball in college, he never wavered on his commitment to the football and basketball teams. That's just who he is, Glenn said, and that's what he admires most as a father.

"He values commitment," Glenn said. "I know he wanted to get out on the football field and prove that he could perform at the highest level in high school, and he didn't want to let his teammates down. … He's an unselfish young man, and he's about holding up his commitments for his teammates."

That's why Sheets thinks Matt hasn't yet reached his potential.

In order to be successfull in baseball, you have to play every day throughout the entire year, Sheets said, and Matt has never had the time for that type of commitment.

Now, he will.

"Here's a kid that's 6-4, hits with tremendous power and has an above-average arm," Sheets said. "I think that William and Mary is going to get a diamond in the rough."

Before he heads to college, however, Matt hopes to lead Gilman to its second MIAA A Conference championship in four years.

After that? Matt can only dream.

"As time goes by, maybe I'll get the opportunity to get drafted. Whether that's first round or the later rounds, I think I'd be very fortunate," he said. "It would be a dream come true."

Sheets, though, doesn't think it will be a dream for much longer. He thinks it will become Matt's reality, sooner rather than later.

"There's a lot of things you can teach, but you can't teach speed, and you can't teach size. And he's got both of them," Sheets said. "I think his upside potential is ahead of him."