JACKSON, MISS., DEC. 5 -- Lewis Tillman always will be known as the player who broke Walter Payton's single-season rushing record at Jackson State.

"You can call me a star if you want, but I have to take it one step at a time," said Tillman, who rushed for 1,357 yards this season, surpassing the mark of 1,139 set by Payton in 1973. "If I make it {to the NFL} fine. If not, I have other things I can do."

His is an attitude of someone who is used to adversity.

A year ago as a 6-foot, 191-pound junior, he suffered a dislocated elbow in the first game, ending his season.

"My expectations were so great for him last year because he had worked so hard in the offseason and we had a more experienced offensive line coming back," said Jackson State Coach W.C. Gorden said.

"And then he suffered the dislocated elbow in the first quarter of the first game. It was a crushing blow for the guy, really for all of us. We were wondering if this guy was too fragile to play college football."

And that's the way it had been for Tillman, who was redshirted last year.

He began his college career with a 154-yard debut against Alabama State, but he hurt his ankle in the next game and gained only 258 yards as a freshman. As a sophomore, he gained 808 yards to lead the conference, but it was a season full of nagging aches.

Tillman closed out this season in a flurry, rushing for 182 yards against Northwestern Louisiana to break Payton's record and adding 116 yards in the season finale against Alcorn State to give the Tigers the Southwestern Athletic Conference title and a third straight trip to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.

Because he's a junior, Tillman hasn't received serious attention from pro scouts. "The pros really only look at seniors, so they won't look at him until the spring," Gorden said. "People tell me he could be a first- or second-round pick."