Hype Building for Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery

Photo: John Albright / Icon Sportswire
Photo: John Albright / Icon Sportswire

When people learned that Jerry Tillery would be starting his collegiate career on the defensive side of the ball, some pundits scoffed that it was a gimmick by the Notre Dame coaching staff to fend off a late charge from Tillery’s home state LSU.  A few weeks into the early enrollee’s career, all indications are its the Notre Dame staff who will get the last laugh.

After eight practices of Spring Football 2015 for Notre Dame, the surprise story has been hands down the meteoric rise of Jerry Tillery.  Just three and a half months ago everyone assumed Tillery was headed towards a redshirt season on a stacked Notre Dame offensive line depth chart – even as one of the best prep offensive tackles in the country.  Today, Tillery is looking like a lock to not only see the field early in his career, but to see meaningful minutes week one against Texas.

The buzz started early in camp, but last week when Brian Kelly met with the media he stoked the flames.  “Far and away the story, is Jerry Tillery,” Kelly said last week.  “He’s just a unique player – one that I can’t remember that I’ve coached,” he added.

With Jarron Jones out for spring practice, Tillery has seen the opportunity to show what he is capable of and has done everything he can to seize that opportunity.  “He’s running with our first group and continues to impress,” Kelly said almost a week ago.

What has made Tillery standout, has been how advanced he is technically speaking for a true freshman who should be preparing for prom right now.  “He just has a unique ability, at such a young age, to use his hands,” according to Kelly.

That unique ability is the product of the coaching he received at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana.  “He has had incredible teaching – one of the all-time great defensive line coaches Pete Jenkins.  If you research him at all, he’s revered as one of the great ones and he’s has the chance to coach him.  You can see it in his ability to use his hands.”

Not all young defensive lineman are able to display the kind of work with their hands that Tillery has shown through the first few practices.  “We spend the first year and half trying to get these kids to not drop their head and be overextended.  He immediately  can shoot his hands and use his size to his advantage.”

We’ve all heard hype of young players in practice before only to never hear from them again, but Kelly even admitted he was hesitant to heap too much praise on the youngster but couldn’t help himself.  “I don’t want to put him in the hall of fame, I’m so leery to talk about a freshman, but he’s a unique talent.”

Once Jones is healthy and back in the lineup for fall camp, Notre Dame is going to have one heck of a defensive line on its hands if the early returns on Tillery are even close to accurate.  Jones and Sheldon Day give Notre Dame an elite 1-2 punch in the middle while Isaac Rochell is a rising star in his own right at the strong side defensive end position.  The weakside still has some question marks, but with a host of candidates, Notre Dame should be deeper than they’ve been in a long time along the defensive front.

The Irish didn’t have such a situation a year ago when the line was held together with bubble gum and duct tape before the season finale against USC.

Tillery has yet to play a down for the Irish, but it is looking more and more likely as though the experiment with Tillery on the defensive line could pay off in a big way for the Irish.  Combine Tillery with Daniel Cage, Jay Hayes, Jacob Matuska, and Pete Mokwuah and the Irish have a legit three deep on the interior defensive line.  Contrast that to the line Notre Dame trotted out in the Collesium last Thanksgiving weekend and it’s hard not to get excited for this defense.



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  1. What Mike T said. Most overfocus on offense, and it’s exacerbated when there is a QB battle.

    But in ’66 (incredible Defense) (’73 and ’77) Browner, Fry, Bradley and Golic and even guys like Dike and Calhoun, cleaning up the leftovers from Browner and Fry and then in ’88 (when some scrub from Flint named Todd Lyght was playing) it has been the Notre Dame defense. The crow eating by the Van Gorder bashers will set some sort of Guiness record. What excites me is that with redfield’s settling down, we have a PLAYMAKER at every level, Day, Smith, Russell and Redfield.


    After all, its half of our ND logo

  2. Big year for Kelly for sure. I expect him to put together a great year and I don’t think ND has had as much talent on their team in decades. Stacked with great starters and tons of depth, we have a great chance to put ND in the absolute highest echelon of football programs this year (annual top 10 team and almost always a contender)

  3. I have a feeling this next season will be the season everyone that has been dogging Van Gorder will finally see why he was hired. We can all say what we want about QBs and 40 some points a game but history tells us it’s teams with great defenses that compete for the national championships.

  4. I will be very interested to see how the linebacker position works out. As I see it we have five excellent players for 3 positions. Smith, Onwaulu, Schmidt, Grace, and Morgan. Martini is also in the mix. Who will play, and who will sit. On paper it has to be the deepest ( with quality), group that we have had in years.

  5. Two fine things about Tillery. With Jones resting from surgery, it gives Tillery a chance to get a lot of reps. And the second is that the coaches can now be more patient and probably redshirt Dew-Treadway, Tiassum and Taylor. It also lessens the pressure on Hayes, Cage and Mokwuah. It was a smart move by the staff moving Tillery to the DL. Heck, either of Alex Bars or Quenton Nelson will NOT start on the OL. As Damian said, we are building depth in a lot of areas.

  6. Speculation. It’s all speculation. I’m a big Irish-fan. (Honorary Alumn also, class of ’89 – the last NatChamp) Enthusiasm is good, but let’s not expect our positive outlook. Yes, hope for. Yes, achieve. No, don’t expect it.

  7. I’m excited for ND football. This will really be a judgment year for BK. He more or less got a get out of jail free card last season (though not by all fans) because of the suspensions and injuries. It was just bad news after bad news.

    But no excuses this year. We have the playmakers and depth at key positions to really have a great year. Not saying there are no weaknesses (the secondary will be a questionmark, and running back depth could cause problems if there are injuries), but the strengths should very much outweigh the weaknesses.

    And the coaching staff should be phenomenal. We lost 2 excellent coaches and recruiters, but it almost seemed we gained double that in the coaches BK has brought in. The offense should be phenomenal this year, and I’m anxious to see the defense with some playmakers and depth. I live in PSU country and they used to be linebacker U. But it’s starting to look like ND may be the new linebacker U. It’s fun for me because my PSU friends used to make fun of ND defenses (and frankly what could I say, our defense was less than stellar for years). Now we have the chance to have elite defenses.

    I really think this year BK needs at minimum a New Years Six bowl for it to be considered a successful year. I think a playoff spot is very much in the mix too.

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