By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Tyler Billings knows how to use his smarts to be a better offensive lineman.
The starting left tackle for Concord University maintains a grade point average above 3.0, and said on Tuesday that his position is not just about smashing defenders in the mouth.
“A lot of the guys on the offensive line are really smart, because that position takes a lot of knowledge — to know the different fronts, and when they blitz, you’ve got to pick it up right and everything,” he said.
“I know a lot of the guys here have a 3.0 (average). You have to be smart to play.”
The native of Ronda, N.C., said he was in the top 20 percent of his class at Elkin High School. “My parents have always pushed me, in the classroom, as well as on the football field, too,” Billings said.
The emphasis continues at Concord, said the health and physical education major. As far as the coaches are concerned, he said, “We’re student-athletes, and students first, all the time. They always want us being successful in the classroom as well as on the field.”
A redshirt sophomore, he was all-state three years in high school, and all-conference for three years in both football and track. Last fall, he made second team all-West Virginia Conference after starting all 11 games for the Mountain Lions in his first college season.
He said when Concord began recruiting him, “I’d never heard of the place.”
Head coach Garin Justice, who also coaches the offensive line, “made it real personal” when Billings visited Athens. “Once I saw the place, I liked it, and made my decision pretty fast,” Billings said. He chose Concord over Campbell, Western Carolina, and UNC-Pembroke.
College football “was a big difference, the speed of the game and coming from a small school,” he said. “It’s a lot more physical. There’s a lot more knowledge of the game, too. You have a lot more (line) calls. It’s way more complex.”
“Everybody here is good. I would occasionally play (against) a good guy when I was in high school. But having a redshirt year got me better, and got me developed.”
The 275-pound lineman has blocked for four quarterbacks in his 13 starts, but he knows that as the tackle on the “blind side” of a right-handed passer, his job continues to be “just keeping him safe. That’s my baby. He takes care of me, I take care of him.”
Last year he had three different linemen playing guard beside him, due to an unusual stretch of injuries on the line. Billings said, “All those guys are a little bit different. But Coach Justice gets us all pretty much on the same boat, so it doesn’t change too much.”
This season, he said, “We have eight guys who can play.”
The process of deciding the starters is based on “doing what’s best for the team,” he said. “If you’re playing better than him, you’re going to get that starting spot, and he knows if you take that spot from him, it’s nothing personal.”
His current partner at left guard is a close friend, Cody Parker. Billings said, “I like playing with Cody. He’s a physical guy; he’s really smart. ... He’s a fun guy to play beside.”
Billings said he was “kind of shocked” when his name appeared on the all-conference list last fall. “I didn’t expect to get it,” he said. “When I was told, I was happy, but I was kind of surprised. I know there’s a lot of great offensive linemen in this league, so it was a great accomplishment.”
“But I want to build on that, for the future.”
Speaking of the future, he contended that the CU offense is “capable of being great. We’re really young, now, but once it starts connecting, the sky’s the limit.”
— Contact Tom Bone at