By Tiffany L. Rehbein
In 1986, he was named to the first team All-State at defensive tackle and kicker, and second team at tight end for the Havre Blue Ponies.
He was named to the National Federation of Coaches All-American team his senior year as a Blue Pony.
He set a State Class A discus record with a throw of 188-3. The record stood untouched for 10 years.
He was named All-State in three different sports his senior year at Havre High School.
After high school, he attended Washington State University on an athletic scholarship.
While a Cougar, he started 20 of his final 22 games. At his defensive tackle position, he tallied 51 tackles, including 5.5 sacks his junior year.
All the while, his GPA was 3.5 or higher, which led to him being named as first-team All-American.
His senior year, he was named defensive captain of the Cougars.
After college, he took a job as the head coach of a fledgling football program in an obscure town outside Moscow, Idaho.
"I just wanted to stay involved in football," Lee Tilleman said. "It had been part of my life for 20 years, and I just wanted to stay involved."
And the Genesee Bulldogs, coming off back-to-back 0-9, 1-8 records in 1990 and 1991, had a new 6-foot-6, 250 pound head coach named Lee Tilleman.
"At the first football meeting, I only had seven kids show up," Tilleman said. "The first thing I had to do was recruit some kids. Eventually, I had 12 to play."
That 1992 eight-man football season did not go so smoothly for Tilleman, who, himself, led the Bulldogs to yet anther 0-8 season.
"It was 16 losses when I moved in and I managed to extend that a few more games," Tilleman said, laughing. "But, when you're losing like that, you just have to make it fun for the kids to keep them playing. You teach them the skills, then they start winning games. Success kind of breeds success and we got more kids out."
In '93, the Bulldogs managed two wins, and the next year, they notched three.
"When I got the job, I just didn't realize the big project I was getting into," Tilleman said. "They didn't tell me the record when I started."
By 1995, the team was 7-2, and, since then, they have had at least six wins per season.
This season, the Bulldogs finished with an 8-2 record, the best in Tilleman's eight years at the helm.
In the first-round playoff game this fall, the Bulldogs defeated Cambridge and advanced into the state semifinal.
Lotus defeated Genesee 46-0, knocking them from contention. Lotus went on to lose the state championship game by three points.
Tilleman, an insurance agent in real life, had 23 men suited up this season.
At the high school in Genesee, a town of about 750 people, 90 kids attend with about 40 boys in grades 9-12.
"It was a slow building process," Tilleman said. "But you could see the kids get better every year. You could see the kids get more competitive every year."
And, of course, there's always the high school rivalry game. At Genesee, it is against Deary.
In the '90s, Deary was the powerhouse.
"We beat them for the first time last year," Tilleman said. "That was a huge win for us. They hate us; we hate them; it was one of those typical rivalries."
But coaching is really more than teaching the kids football skills.
"The biggest challenge is keeping the kids that are on the fence, as far as staying out of trouble, it is keeping them interested in football," Tilleman said.
For some in Genesee, that time in football might be the greatest moment they experience in life.
"I'm concerned about the 'at-risk' kids, I think they call them," Tilleman said. "I want to keep them involved in football so they can keep the rest of their life in order."
About 10 percent of the kids would fall into this category, Tilleman said.
"But it's always a big challenge," he said. "By teaching the kids football, you teach them about life. It's pretty rewarding, when, after the kids graduate, they come by and thank you for what you've done for them."
Another challenge might be keeping a now-winning program a winning program.
"It was much easier building a losing program to winning," Tilleman said. "They were coming off a 16-game losing streak, of course, I extended that another few games, but there was not a lot of pressure. It was a lot easier coming into a losing program because, if you didn't turn it around, it was no big deal. Now there's a little more pressure."
Pressure? In a town with no stop lights and one stop sign?
"It's the small-town atmosphere," Tilleman said.
"People think that Havre is smaller than Genesee, and after I tell them they say, 'Holy cow, I can't believe it's that big!' They think it's a metropolis," he said.