The Legend of Dance Tillman and the Teeter-Totter


U.S. U21 attackman Lance Tillman has speed to burn and an arsenal of moves he learned from a Canadian legend.

Growing up as a talented lacrosse player in Colorado, Lance Tillman was used to playing up a few age groups. However, as his opponents began to hit growth spurts, Tillman was faced with an entirely new challenge. His stick skills weren’t enough to get past his defensemen. He needed another weapon, another element.

“Everybody was always bigger than me and my father just told me, ‘Run away from them,’” Tillman said. “’They can't catch you if you run fast enough. I realized that was my niche in lacrosse, working on my footwork, maybe getting an extra step on my defenders.”

Tillman’s speed was apparent early on in his lacrosse career, but he took it to another level by working with strength, speed and conditioning coach Dustin Johnson (not the golfer) starting his freshman year of high school. By his senior year of high school at Valor Christian, Tillman’s speed and footwork were what made him a highly rated recruit. He has since qualified for the U.S. U21 team member and emerged as a key swing player for North Carolina.

Despite seeing limited playing time during the abbreviated 2020 college season, Tillman flashed his playmaking ability, speed and agility. His breakthrough came this spring. When Tar Heels All-American midfielder Tanner Cook was injured, Tillman was among the players who helped fill the void, scoring four goals in North Carolina’s NCAA quarterfinal win over Rutgers.

Tillman showed he could run midfield out of the box or play attack, hinting at the talent that could make him an ACC star.

“We call him Dance Tillman,” North Carolina midfielder Justin Anderson said on “Yard Sale,” a USA Lacrosse Magazine show hosted by ESPN’s Paul Carcaterra, Quint Kessenich and Anish Shroff. “The kid has got the sickest moves. His feet are so quick.”

The legend of Dance Tillman began in the Denver suburbs, where Tillman burned defensemen en route to a successful career at Valor Christian. His work with Johnson made him explosive, but the lessons learned from then-head coach John Grant Jr. made him the complete package.

Tillman starred in Grant’s offense throughout his high school career, hoping to soak in as much information as possible from the Canadian pro lacrosse legend before heading to college.

“He taught me how to understand the game on a deeper level,” Tillman said of Grant, now the offensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins. “Any shot I take is due to him because he taught me how to finish around the goal and be crafty. He’s basically mastered that craft.”

One of Tillman’s goals against Rutgers came on what he called a “teeter-totter,” a move he learned from Grant.

“You look high, go low,” Tillman said. “He just teaches you a bunch of little funky moves that Canadians have.”

Tillman trades in his Carolina blue for the USA red, white and blue this weekend, when the U.S. U21 team reconvenes for training camp at USA Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md. It has been 17 months since they last played together. The World Lacrosse U21 Men’s World Championship is next summer in Limerick, Ireland — the former U19 competition postponed two years due to the pandemic.

Tillman joins ACC rivals turned teammates Brennan O’Neill (Duke) and Pat Kavanagh (Notre Dame), as well as Lehigh’s Cole Kirst and Princeton’s Alex Slusher on a stacked U.S. attack. With his unique combination of speed, footwork and an urge to get to the cage, Tillman hopes he can play an integral role on a team that has its sights set on another gold medal.

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