Jerry Tillery had a different perspective on the Music City Bowl.
When Notre Dame took the field against LSU earlier this week, few could’ve known both programs much better. Tillery hails from Shreveport, La., and grew up an LSU fan. His aunt has season tickets to Tiger Stadium and a virtual shrine to the program in her home. Yet Tillery has been a Notre Dame commitment for nearly 18 months and is set to enroll in South Bend in barely a week.
That’s all despite the fact Tillery took multiple visits to LSU this season, including the program’s overtime loss to Alabama.
“It was interesting watching two teams who you know a lot of players on both sides,” Tillery said. “But I mean, Notre Dame, the defense really stopped them when we had to. Going into halftime, that was big for the course of the game. Just making plays when we had to. That last drive was big, a couple big throws from both quarterbacks. Poise in the pocket, stuff like that. It was fun to watch.”
Notre Dame needed a 32-yard field goal from Kyle Brindza as time expired to notch the 31-28 victory, its first over an SEC program in a decade. The result snapped a four-game skid and created some buzz about the Irish.
Tillery and Notre Dame’s four other U.S. Army All-American Bowl commitments – Nicco Fertitta, Tristen Hoge, Asmar Bilal and Josh Barajas – managed to catch at least some of the action despite practice and other obligations. Closing the season with a victory provided some optimism.
“I thought it was great,” Fertitta said. “I thought they completely out-physicaled LSU. LSU is known for their defense and our offense was just running them over. Malik (Zaire) had a great game and so did a couple of other guys. It was great to see us kill an SEC team.”
Head coach Brian Kelly will now attempt to sustain that surge heading into recruiting’s homestretch, which picks back up once the dead period lifts on Jan. 12. Notre Dame’s class hopes to be part of that momentum, including the commitments here.
“It’s not about how you start,” Fertitta said. “It’s about how you finish. Beating a team of that caliber can definitely give you a lot of confidence. We’re a really young team and for a lot of those young guys, especially on defense, to take and learn from that game is gonna be huge. I think that’s definitely gonna correlate to next season.”
Bilal weighs in on Harbaugh hire
Four-star linebacker Asmar Bilal chose Notre Dame on Oct. 16 after also giving lengthy consideration to Michigan, at one point considered a leader.
Brady Hoke was the head coach when Bilal committed, a job now held by Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines alum and former San Francisco 49ers head coach has already hit the phones to recruit.
Bilal doesn’t see the changes in Ann Arbor affecting his commitment status.
“That does nothing for me,” Bilal said.
Tillery eyes position switch
Tillery came to prominence in recruiting circles as an offensive tackle.
Now it appears he’s headed to defense.
Earlier this week he revealed plans to start at defensive tackle upon enrollment at Notre Dame for the second semester. Tillery played plenty of defense for Evangel Christian this season, so it won’t be unfamiliar territory.
“This year I mostly played defensive tackle in high school,” Tillery said. “This year was when we talked about it (with Notre Dame). It’s what I prefer and I’m excited. Should be fun and a nice change.”
Tillery has played offensive line for the West team all this week. He’s made stops at right tackle, right guard and left guard during practices. Experience on offense should actually help the transition.
“I just want to get in the system and go from there,” Tillery said. “It should be good for me. My body has changed a lot since my sophomore and junior years, so defensive tackle really fits me. I also have a unique perspective because having played offense, I know what they’re trying to do.”