Even in board shorts and a T-shirt, Kevin Tillie raises eyebrows in his Newport Beach neighborhood, navigating somewhat skittishly along the cultural shore break that sometimes renders him a hopeless outsider.
"I'm getting better [with the cultural differences], but I still get people who recognize me and ask me 'Where are you from?' or a random 'You're not from around here,'" said Tillie, a native of France in his first season with the UC Irvine men's volleyball team.
His mildly discernible accent often gives him away, and prompts kidding from teammates who refer to him as [French] toast, Jean Pierre, or the less-provincial Tillie.
It is, however, when he takes the court that the 6-foot-5 outside hitter most noticeably separates himself from his peers. It is, oddly, within the confines of college volleyball that the high-flying Tillie orbits increasingly apart.
"Oh my God, he's unreal," said Tillie's UCI teammate, Connor Hughes, who recalls first witnessing the rather unique athleticism that made the transfer from Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada an instant commodity on his recruiting visit to Irvine.