While Nathaniel Tilque’s teammates were doing Military Mondays, he was in Quantico, Va., preparing for the real thing.
Once a week during the summer, the N.C. Central football team would wear camouflage during workout drills. About 230 miles north, Tilque, a senior punter from Charlotte, was training to become a Marine. When Tilque graduates in May, he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. Tilque spent two summers completing Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, completing a six-week session after his sophomore year, before finishing all his requirements this past summer.
His first summer at OCS was academic-focused. When he returned last May for the seniors division, the experience was more about the physical demands of being a Marine and proving he could develop into a leader.
Tilque, who’s 6-2 and 190 pounds, was required to do physical training every morning, which came with a side of drill instructors “yelling at you 24/7.”
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The job of the instructors was to screen candidates under extreme stress to see who could handle it. That included a lot of hiking – a total of 20 miles at times – with weighted military equipment.
“It’s tough on the body,” Tilque said. “It’s the most tired I’ve ever been in my life and probably one of the hardest things I had to do.”
It makes punting a football in front of 20,000 people seem easy. Tilque, who’s been punting for the Eagles since his freshman season, was voted preseason All-MEAC in July. In N.C. Central’s 21-14 win over Florida A&M on Sept. 28, Tilque averaged 43 yards per punt and pinned the Rattlers inside their own 20 five times. When the Eagles’ offense stalled with 7:17 remaining in the game, Tilque booted a 50-yarder that was downed at the FAMU 14-yard line.
“That’s my job,” Tilque said. “My job is to make sure when the offense isn’t clicking to put (the opponent) back and make them drive 90 yards on us.”
Tilque was named MEAC Specialist of the Week after the FAMU game, and N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack gave him credit for the win. But Tilque was quick to give credit to the entire punt unit. That team-first mentality will serve him well when he heads to the Marines.
“Teamwork is huge. The good team people are very unselfish. They play for the team because the team glory comes before personal glory. I play for the team,” Tilque said. “I don’t really care about my own stats. Specialist of the week is good, but it’s more for my cover team than me anyway.”
Tilque admits that being a specialist on a football team means he doesn’t really serve as a vocal leader, but he’s more than qualified to do so if he’s needed. However, his teammates see something special in Tilque. Prior to the Eagles’ game against Gardner-Webb last Saturday, several players went to Mack and insisted that Tilque be named one of the captains. So he was. And he responded by pinning the Bulldogs inside the 20 on five of his seven punts, four of those inside the 10-yard line.
One of Tilque’s leadership tests at OCS put him in charge of a platoon of 60 cadets. He was responsible for planning and giving operation orders. Some of the problems he had to solve amongst his troops was getting a wooden barrel over a wall with one stick and without touching half the wall. . The test was to see how Tilque, the squad leader, would react to the stressful situation.
“Being under stress doesn’t bother me anymore because I’ve been through stuff like that,” Tilque said.
Tilque was born in Charlotte, and moved around a lot as a child, living in Georgia, Kansas and Missouri before moving back to Charlotte. Both his parents were in the Army; his dad retired as a lieutenant colonel, his mom retired as a major. He always knew he would go into the family business after graduation. A physics major, Tilque said he wanted to do “something fun” after school, so he decided to join the Marines. He eventually wants to be a fighter pilot.
“The military is in my family,” Tilque said. “I enjoy it and figured being a pilot would be kind of fun, so I went with it.”
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Norfolk State at N.C. Central
When: 2 p.m., Saturday
Where: O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, Durham