Tyler Stockton drove by Exit 77 on the Indiana Toll Road earlier this month heading west. In his past life as a defensive tackle, that off-ramp meant coming home. It’s the preferred exit for the University of Notre Dame, where Stockton was recruited by Charlie Weis and rarely played for Brian Kelly.
But on this February day Stockton had his Notre Dame experience to thank for not stopping at a place he hasn’t visited since graduating from the one-year MBA program two years ago.
“I saw the exit and got all pumped up,” Stockton told Irish Illustrated this week. “I thought about stopping. But I still had about six more hours to drive.”
Stockton was on his way to his first fulltime coaching job as the new defensive line coach at Western Illinois in Macomb. He’s one of four former Notre Dame players to go fulltime into the coaching profession during the past two months.
On Friday, Maurice Crum Jr., was announced as the new defensive backs coach at Indiana State under Mike Sanford, the father of Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator. Last month Armando Allen become running backs coach at Texas Southern, where former Irish offensive coordinator Mike Haywood resurfaced as head coach. Tommy Rees went from graduate assistant at Northwestern to an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers.
Stockton, Crum and Allen were all graduate assistants too, Stockton at Connecticut under Bob Diaco, Crum at Notre Dame and Allen at Miami of Ohio under Chuck Martin.
For Stockton, the move from South Bend to Storrs to Macomb represents his first three steps into a dream profession, even with a degree from the nation’s top-ranked business school in hand. He watched how Kelly rebuilt Notre Dame. He helped Diaco turn around Connecticut. Now he’s researching the origins of Leathernecks.
That’s the Western Illinois nickname and dates back to the Marine Corps.
“I’m still learning,” Stockton laughed. “I’m getting there.”
When Western Illinois opens spring practice, Stockton will get to do more than break down film and get to the office before 5 a.m., which was regularly at Connecticut. His players have already asked about Notre Dame and the techniques Diaco taught. And he’s already scheduled yoga sessions with players, picking up a training technique from Notre Dame.
“Me and Big Lou used to do yoga with Carlo,” Stockton said. “I’m definitely an energizing coach. Still being young, I still enjoy showing drills to a lot of players. I still think I’m capable of being an awesome college football player.
“I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet.”
As a coach, definitely not.
It speaks to Stockton’s experience at Notre Dame – he didn’t see the field as a junior or senior – that time with the Irish coaches made him want to be around football more, not less.
Kelly invited Stockton back for a fifth year because of his locker room presence. He finished that season with three tackles, which quadrupled his career total. Regardless, Stockton got close to Diaco, who hired him as a graduate assistant after leaving for Connecticut.
When the opening at Western Illinois popped up late last month, Stockton sought Diaco for advice on the move. He could have stayed at Connecticut for a third season, but Diaco endorsed the jump. Western Illinois was also Diaco’s first fulltime coaching position, where he had running backs and special teams duties in 1999-2000.
Coincidentally, Brian VanGorder was the Western Illinois defensive coordinator in 2000.
“The biggest thing I learned from Diaco was work ethic,” Stockton said. “I haven’t been around someone who works like him. That work ethic and knowledge of the game, that’s gonna take me a long way seeing how he operated.
“I saw how he had the guys, no matter what was going on, they always believed. As long as the message is consistent and the message is real, guys are going to play for you.”
Stockton maintains contact with former teammates Nix, Calabrese, Rees, Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Zeke Motta, Cierre Wood and Darius Fleming to name a few. Stockton will actually recruit Fleming’s high school of St. Rita as part of his Chicagoland territory.
Next season he’ll reconnect with Crum too.
Western Illinois hosts Indiana State in October.
Until then, Stockton will get to work under head coach Charlie Fisher, taking the lessons learned at Notre Dame and Connecticut and applying them at a program located basically in the middle of nowhere.
“It’s gonna be exciting for me,” Stockton said. “I get to have my hands on my own position. Hopefully when you watch our defense play, when you watch our defensive line, you’ll say, ‘That’s a Tyler Stockton defensive line. Look at the passion and energy.” I want that to be my identity in coaching.”
It probably already is.
Stockton wouldn’t be a full-time assistant 25-years old if it wasn’t.
Maybe at some point in his coaching career Tyler Stockton will get off at Exit 77 on the Indiana Toll Road. And maybe it will be a business trip on a Saturday afternoon.