Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 9, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 18 of 55 OCT. 9, 2017 19 BY ANDREW OWENS F or Jerry Tillery, 2017 has been no laughing matter. Tillery has cast aside his typical comedic act in front of cameras for a more serious, business-like approach. To be sure, this is not due to Tillery struggling on the field. In fact, the first month of the season has been quite productive. From his first days with the Irish, Tillery would engage with the media on topics relating from his intention to enter the medical field — he has since decided on economics — as well as his experiences as a world traveler and support for Hillary Clinton's presidential run. In his third season, that approach has shifted to a football-only focus, at least in front of the cameras. "You're more serious than I've ever seen you," a reporter quipped in a recent interview session. "You're locked in, aren't you?" Even that didn't get Tillery to bite. "Yeah," Tillery replied stoi- cally. "We're excited to play this game for sure." Whether it is coincidence or causation, Tillery's on-field product has im- proved in 2017. He surpassed the 60-snap mark in back-to-back weeks at Boston College and Michigan State, clearly benefiting from a new strength and conditioning program. "His conditioning level is really good," head coach Brian Kelly said. "He's worked at it. Jerry is a different, more committed player from last year to this year. He's worked extremely hard in the weight room. "He's really focused on football. It's important to him. It's showing on Saturdays." Tillery attributes those strides to a couple fac- tors: The experience gained in his first two sea- sons of college football, and the new strength and conditioning program. "Strength and technique is something you've got to work on every day to get better at," he said. "I worked at it hard over the summers and each day at practice, and it's something that we work at every day. … It takes a lot. It takes reps. It takes experience to get the tempo of the game. "It's been key to our conditioning and our con- ditioning level to run harder and longer." After defensive coordinator Mike Elko arrived over the winter, Tillery transitioned from the three-technique spot along the defensive line to nose guard. You won't, however, get Tillery to divulge how he feels about the position switch while simply taking a page from Cliche 101. "I want to do whatever I can do to help the team win," he said. "I'm excited to do wherever I can on the field — make plays and help the team win. "That's where I've been put to best help my team win. I think if that's what my coaches think can help us win, I'm excited to play there." Although Tillery registered the second-most snaps among defensive linemen last season with 52 per game, he finished with only three tackles for loss and zero sacks. Through four games in 2017, he had already notched two stops behind the line of scrimmage and 1.5 QB takedowns. "When we get to third down, [getting off the field is] what we do," he said. "If we're able to execute the defense that's called and defend the play properly, then we're going to get off the field. That's our goal on every third down, and we're excited to keep do- ing that. "I think we've held up well. We've made some good plays and some critical stops in a bunch of games." The low point of Tillery's ca- reer occurred in the 45-27 loss at USC in the season finale last November. In a sequence of just a few plays, he nudged a fallen Trojan in the helmet with his foot and, later, stomped on the hand of another USC player. "He's aware of how he presents himself, the decisions that he makes and the accountability," Kelly said during fall camp. "It sounds a lot like maturity and growing up. I think at the end what we're looking for is a young man that is aware of how he handles himself and who he represents. "He's done a really good job of taking respon- sibility on a day-to-day basis of his business along the way and developing his football skills as well." By all accounts through the first month of the 2017 season, Tillery has accomplished that while simultaneously improving his conditioning and on-field production. He credits his ability to bet- ter balance his football commitments with his many off-the-field interests. "Just time management," he said. "Learning how to manage your time wisely is something that's really helped. "It's my third year doing it, so I've gotten a lot more comfortable." Those dividends are paying off for Tillery in 2017. Even if he's reluctant to talk about it. ✦ "HE'S AWARE OF HOW HE PRESENTS HIMSELF, THE DECISIONS THAT HE MAKES AND THE ACCOUNTABILITY." HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY ON TILLERY In the first four games this season, Tillery registered 19 total stops, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA OCT. 9, 2017 19

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