Jerry Tillery doesn’t watch Brian Kelly’s press conferences.
That would seem obvious if it wasn’t for the fact the early enrollee was often the subject of them this spring. Tillery, recruited for 18 months as an offensive tackle until he arrived as a defensive tackle in January, was the talk of Notre Dame’s spring practice despite never speaking about the experience himself.
“Jerry has done amazing, he’s a freak,” said defensive end Andrew Trumbetti. “He’s gonna probably be an All-American, in my opinion.”
Notre Dame made Tillery off-limits to the media during spring ball, although the product of Evangel Christian Academy was interviewed during the University’s Notre Dame Day this week. A player who took official visits to LSU and Dartmouth while being committed to Notre Dame didn’t get the big deal about his first semester, which wraps up in a few weeks.
Told Kelly gushed about him, Tillery shrugged.
And that was about it.
“No, I’m not watching coach’s press conferences, c’mon,” Tillery said during the Notre Dame Day interview. “I have too much going on to be sitting down watching press conferences.”
Pressed on the topic, Tillery took some satisfaction that people have noticed. He’s hard to miss at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, a player who wears that weight like he could easily put on more.
Tillery worked with the starting defense all spring at nose guard, replacing the injured Jarron Jones, who remains out following foot surgery last year. The coaching staff has expressed concerned Jones will be slow to return after taking at least six months off.
If that happens, Tillery could be more than a spring story.
Notre Dame landed Tillery before his junior season at ECA in Shreveport, La., where he was coached by Byron Dawson, a former LSU defensive lineman. Dawson has compared Tillery to Michael Brockers, who went 14th overall out of LSU three years ago in the draft.
The Irish staff valued Dawson’s opinion so much it invited him to speak at the annual Coaches Clinic in March.
“I feel you have to be able to take correction as a football player to be great. That’s what I’ve tried to do,” Tillery said. “That’s my goal, to come in and impress these coaches and get on the field and play football like I love to do.
“That’s what I came here trying to do. That’s a thing I’ve done well.”
Kelly called Tillery a unique talent, one the head coach hasn’t encountered often. The same sentiment holds for Notre Dame’s players, who have watched a former offensive tackle flash brilliance on defense.
“He’ll do something crazy and we’ll wonder how the heck that happened,” Trumbetti said. “We’ll all just look at each other and be confused. He does some freaky things.
I’m glad he’s on D-line.
“Sometimes I almost feel like he’ll be rushing around the edge and his head is almost scraping the floor he’s so low to it. It’s like he’s running sideways. I don’t know, it’s so weird. He does some pretty crazy things. His balance is ridiculous.”