This past basketball season, it became common news to hear that The Rock’s sophomore forward was attaching yet another accolade to his name. The only Slippery Rock player to start all 30 games for a team that finished its season in the PSAC quarterfinals, Micah Till wrapped up his first season in the Green and White with a multitude of honors. Among other praises, Till was an All-PSAC West honoree and a consensus All-Region selection by both the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association. Most impressively, he was named as a third-team All-American by the D2CCA last month.
Now known as an integral part of Coach Kevin Reynolds’ team, Till first opted to play on the turf instead of the hardwood. He made a pair of one-year stopovers in different states, with different sports, before ending up here in western Pennsylvania. Prior to his time as a significant player on two-state championship-winning teams at Wise High School in Upper Boro, Maryland, Till suffered a broken tibia and dislocated kneecap as a freshman.
“Going into eleventh grade, I wasn’t on any map, anywhere,” Till said of the injury that set him back as a sophomore also. That all changed in the subsequent months.
He began receiving interest letters from D-1 schools while his football team cruised undefeated into the postseason. The Pumas march brought them to the title contest for the state’s 4A classification at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Trailing late in the fourth quarter, Till snared a fade pass from his quarterback to put his team ahead. The catch ended up being the game-winner.
Later that year, Till pledged to play football for North Carolina State over other ACC schools Duke, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, and SEC schools South Carolina and Missouri. He was the 42nd-ranked tight end (according to 247 Sports) in a 2014 position class that was headed by former Penn State tight end and NFL prospect Mike Gesicki.
“I felt like [N.C. State’s] program would put me in the best position to further my football career,” Till said. “They had playing time open for me. I just felt like it was the best option.”
That summer, he was at an AAU tournament when Rutgers head basketball coach Eddie Jordan approached with the only high-level D-1 offer Till fielded as a high schooler.
“I told him, like, ‘I’m already going [to N.C. State] for football’ and he told me, ‘Well, if you ever change your mind, you have a full ride to Rutgers’,” Till said. “It was kind of an informal offer, but he still offered me.”
The following season, after his football team fell in defense of their title in the opening round of the state playoffs, Till looked for a better result in basketball. His team dropped two straight games in late-December and then responded by reeling off 16 straight wins to close out the regular season. Ending up in the state championship game, Till and company rolled Whitman High School, 70-43, for Wise’s first-ever state title.
He moved to N.C. State the next fall and was told he would redshirt, and, saved for any sudden lack of depth at his position, would not see any game action in his freshman year. Meanwhile, in practice, he pulled in passes from junior quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has since gone on to start for both the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in the NFL. He frequently had to block Bradley Chubb, a top defensive prospect in this month’s professional draft. Ultimately, with the demands of football and the absence of playing time with the Wolfpack, Till realized his love for the sport had waned.
“If you don’t love the sport you’re constantly doing, it’s like having a job, but you don’t want to work,” Till said. “All in all, I feel like I’ve always loved basketball more.”
He sat out the spring semester of 2016, unsure if it was just the school and setting that impacted the way he saw football. He visited a number of FCS schools, such as North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, and Bowie State, to see if they would be a fit on the gridiron. “It just never seemed right,” Till said.
He ended up at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Md., a little over an hour drive from his hometown. “I actually didn’t have anywhere to go until the head coach remembered me from high school and was talking to people for me,” Till said. “That was pretty much my only full ride to junior college that I had on the table.”
In the summer before throwing on the blue jersey for Harford, Till played in three separate summer leagues. He played in the Kenner League, whose most notable alumni include NBA icon Allen Iverson and Steve Francis, the second-overall pick of the 1999 NBA Draft. He also played outdoors in the George Goodman League at Barry Farms, where Prince George’s county-native and Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant has rolled through.
The following winter, Till led his Fighting Owls to a 24-8 record and a Region 20 Championship. “Seeing [my family] at the games really kept me motivated … Just having them there supporting me throughout the time I was there was really helpful,” Till said. He paced his team’s offensive effort with a 16.3 scoring average and grabbed the second-most rebounds by a Harford player.
Multiple PSAC schools showed interest in Till coming to play basketball for the school, and it turns out that The Rock was not initially his first choice. “I honestly wanted to go to Cal U at first,” Till admitted. His mind changed once SRU assistant coach Ian Grady began recruiting him. “[Coach Reynolds and Coach Grady] basically said that they were going to put the ball in my hands. That’s always a valid option for me if I want to go somewhere and go to the next level,” he said. “Why not go somewhere where they’re going to give you the ball and let you score?”
“The pitch to him was just ‘Hey, you’re going to be part of one of the better teams in Division II,’” Head coach Kevin Reynolds stated. “’And, if you play up to your potential, you’re going to have a good year, and so will our team’.”
Coming to Slippery Rock marked his fourth school in as many years, a frequency of change that would be tough to anyone, but was a little easier for the six-foot-seven forward. Born in Japan, Till lived overseas in Italy before moving to Spokane, Washington at age six and then again to Maryland at eight. Of the experiences, Micah stated, “Mentally, [moving a few times as a child helps]. You’re used to moving and losing some relationships or just a lot of different things changing. I guess you could say it’s helped me cope with everything.”
Growing up with two older brothers, his toughness carries over to his physicality as well. “My brothers both molded me to be tough and I think that shows in how I play,” Micah stated. Titus, four years older, was Maryland’s third-ranked football player in Maryland in his recruiting class. He went on to play defensive back at the University of Maryland and transferred to James Madison University, where he played as a linebacker. “My [other brother] was real talented, there was just no one out there [in Washington] to see him play,” he said of his second older brother, Durward. “I always say that, if he would have played in Maryland [like Titus and me], he would have ended up going Division I.”
Micah wasn’t the only Harford player to transfer to SRU, as guard Aaron McDonald tagged along. “Having him [here too] definitely helped me feel a lot more comfortable about the situation […] “Knowing I’d have someone here who I knew and was comfortable playing with.” He lists SRU mainstays Cristal Malalu, Khyree Wooten, Merdic Green and Tony Gates as big help with the transition.
Again, conditioning was a minor issue in adapting to Coach Reynolds’ offense. “When we first started doing live scrimmages […] I wasn’t in very good shape. So Coach Reynolds was doing a lot of talking about how I might not be able to get a lot of playing time if I was out of shape,” Till said. “And I was just like ‘I’ll show you on the court’, that’s what I kept saying. And when it came to that time it was real competitive, but I just felt like personally that I was standing out a little more.”
“I think he had a good year, but I also think he could have had a better year if his conditioning was at its best,” Reynolds said. “It’s a credit to him that he’s able to fight through it, but I think that’s part of that football mentality, grind through it.”
Before leaving, Till spoke of what people see him as. “‘How was N.C. State?’ is one of the first things people will ask me. Honestly, I wish people would look at it differently because I’ve always seen myself as a basketball player who played football up until I went to N.C. State,” he admitted. “It’s kind of funny that now it’s the other way around.”