When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last played a real football game, it was a bit of a beatdown at the hands of the USC Trojans. The loss cemented Notre Dame's 4-8 record and the internet meme of the offseason for Irish detractors. One of the things that made the loss even worse (there were many many ways) were the actions of defensive lineman Jerry Tillery.
At two different times, Tillery tried hurting a Trojan in an unsportsmanlike manner that bordered on aggravated assault. It was vicious, uncalled for, and not what Notre Dame is all about. It was also outside of the character that we thought we knew when it came to Tillery.
Most of us have very vivid memories of Tillery's freshman year in 2015. That year, Showtime's "A Season With Notre Dame" spent a lot of time filming the big body with big personality. He came off as a genuinely nice person with a good head on his shoulders. He looked like a normal Notre Dame student (outside of his immense size) and viewers and fans kind of fell in love with him.
How could you not? His time with Sheldon Day was spent as the goofy little brother, and it was incredibly insightful to see the role Day played in Tillery's development as a person and a player. Those Terry Jillery moments will live on forever.
That's why his actions at USC were so shocking. Most of us just didn't think he had it in him. Was the season just too much for the struggling sophomore? Was the absence of his mentor, Sheldon Day, just too great of an obstacle to overcome?
I guess it doesn't matter what it was exactly, but the truth was that Tillery needed to grow up.
I am a little surprised that no one asked Brian Kelly about Tillery's status last spring, but it was asked today at the press conference. Basically, would Tillery be suspended by Kelly against the Temple Owls at all for those actions? Was there any type of discipline?
Brian Kelly stated that Tillery was mandated to get counseling, and perform community service hours. According to Kelly, he has met those obligations, and no further action is needed at this time.
Brian Kelly said Jerry Tillery faced internal discipline, underwent counseling and performed community service after last season’s end.— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) July 31, 2017
It's great that Brian Kelly and Notre Dame went beyond just more time in the weight room or other types of football "punishment" used around the country. It was more than punishment, it was helping a young man who certainly looked like he needed help.
Tillery is a junior now, and that means more is expected and more is required — both on the field and off of it. So many of the pieces that he needs to be great are there, and perhaps this helps put all of that together so he can reach his potential.
Notre Dame needs Jerry Tillery, and it seems as if Tillery needs Notre Dame. If those lessons can help put it all together, than bravo to Jerry and to the Notre Dame football staff. The Jerry Tillery Project is in year 3, and we may see it pay off big time.