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Life After Terry Jillery: Can Jerry Tillery Take the Next Step?

After a promising freshman season ended with a Fiesta Bowl suspension, what's next for the mammoth defensive tackle with a heart of gold?

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

If you followed Notre Dame Fighting Irish football at all last year, you know the name Jerry Tillery.

If you don't remember, here's a quick refresher:

The true freshman from Shreveport, Louisiana was forced to play significant time at defensive tackle in 2016 due to senior Jarron Jones' summer injury, and quickly became a fan favorite thanks to some flashes of effective play and his recurring antics in the Showtime series A Season With Notre Dame Football. His nickname, "Terry Jillery," will always be one of the best things to ever happen to the Notre Dame football program, along with his ability to get agitated incredibly easily by now-Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Sheldon Day.

Tillery made 12 tackles (2 of those for loss) and had 1 sack over the course of the season, and played pretty well early on with that sack against Texas and 4 of his 12 tackles in the monsoon at Clemson. However, by the end of the season, he had worn down a bit and was eventually suspended from the Fiesta Bowl, watching from afar as Ezekiel Elliott gashed the Fighting Irish defense up the middle to the tune of 149 yards and 4 touchdowns.

To pile on to that disappointing finish, Tillery then announced in March that his alter ego Terry Jillery was officially retired, causing tremendous sadness among millions of people who all felt that Terry was of vital importance to Jerry's success.

So, what's in store for Tillery in 2016, with a year of experience under his belt but no hilarious alter ego by his side?

Considering that Jarron Jones is healthily returning for his final season and guaranteed to start at nose tackle, Tillery will be in a rotation at the other defensive tackle spot with junior Daniel Cage and fellow sophomore Elijah Taylor. Cage is more likely to spell Jones at nose tackle than anything else, so expect Tillery to be the favorite to start full-time at DT alongside Jones, with senior Isaac Rochell and junior Andrew Trumbetti manning the defensive end spots.

With his size (6'6 1/2", 310 pounds), quick feet (shown off in a few classic moments of Irish dancing and hurling in the Showtime series), and flexibility (his yoga performance in said series was also impressive), Tillery looks poised to break out a bit more in 2016 and pair with Jones to really solidify the point of attack for Brian VanGorder's defense. With any hope, his development since last season will lead to some pressure up the middle and some collapsing of the opponent's pocket.

However, no matter his potential for success or insistence on maturation, nothing can replace the unbelievable entertainment value that Terry Jillery provided, whether it was constantly donning a Hilary Clinton t-shirt, wearing his helmet into the port-a-potty at practice, getting defensive about girls he liked, or having profound pillow talks with Day in their hotel room before games.

Perhaps Tillery's thought process on eliminating Jillery is that by casting his freshman persona asunder, he can grow and mature out of being the kid who earned a suspension from the bowl game and truly become a man and dominant football force in the process.

He has, since football ended, also managed a student body presidential campaign, which gave us some very stately photographs of young professional Jerry:

If this responsible, well-dressed, successful gentleman is the Jerry Tillery we get to watch going forward, then I guess I can get behind it. Hell, I think I might even vote for him in November considering his newfound experience in politics. It certainly beats my other options, and I imagine Sheldon Day could probably be convinced to run as his VP, which would mean Sheldon Day's mom sightings around the White House. That could only be a good thing for this country.

And hopefully, as he moves on with his life to bigger and better things than asking his friends if he can ride sheep in Ireland (they had to disappointingly inform him that the answer was no), Jerry Tillery can always keep the memories of Terry Jillery in his heart, enabling him to act just as goofy off the field as he promises to be savage and devastating on it. If he can accomplish that, then 2016, as well as any and all future years, look very promising for the aspiring NFL player/doctor/president.