Notebook: Notre Dame recruit Tillery flips to defense

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Jerry Tillery spent the past week in San Antonio, Texas, showing he could block elite pass-rushers off the edge and thwart pushes up the middle from standout defensive tackles.

In the end, Tillery’s impressive practice sessions leading up to his appearance in Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome apparently will have very little to do with his football future at Notre Dame, which begins with early enrollment a little over a week from now.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Tillery this week confirmed the persistent whispers and message-board fodder that he’ll flip to defense and play on the Irish defensive line.

“That's what they need at Notre Dame,” the Shreveport, La., product told Andrew Lopez of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “And I'm going to go and fill it."

Tillery is rated as the 11th-best offensive tackle prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, and No. 7 by 247Sports.

On defense for Evangel Christian Academy, Tillery recorded 93 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks this past season.

“I haven’t seen him play much there,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong after taking in the West team’s 39-36 victory over the East in the U.S. Army game.

“It sounds like the coaching staff has some confidence to that he has a chance to crack the rotation faster on defense. But down here, he certainly proved that he’s capable of being a big-time offensive tackle at Notre Dame — or anywhere.”

Tillery was one of five future Irish players who played in the high school all-star showcase in San Antonio. Center Tristen Hoge, safety Nicco Fertitta and linebackers Josh Barajas and Asmar Bilal joined Tillery on the winning West squad.

Hoge and Bilal both started and served as team captains. Bilal had a tackle and recovered a fumble. Barajas made two solo tackles.

“I think all five of them are going to be good players, and Tillery is now a wild card changing positions,” Wiltfong said. “But there’s two of them that I would say are going to be no-doubters in this class, and that’s Tristen Hoge and Josh Barajas.

“When you talk about Tristen Hoge (6-4, 285), you’re talking about the No. 1 center in the country and a tremendous athlete. When he gets up to the necessary weight, up to 300 pounds, he won’t lose any of that athleticism.

“He’s a ferocious player, a guy that more than held his own against some of the biggest, baddest defensive tackles in the country.”

Hoge, like Tillery, will enroll early at ND this month, as will linebacker Te’von Coney and defensive lineman Micah Dew-Treadway.

The rest of the class, including Barajas, will enroll in June.

“With Josh Barajas, he was a guy who really proved this week that he’s one of the top linebackers in the country,” Wiltfong said. “A lot of these guys in this game have done the Nike camps and the Opening (an invitation-only camp), but Josh had never competed on a stage like this before. And he certainly more than held his own.

“He’s a guy who closes on the ball carrier fast and arrives with a thud. I think he’s going to get on the field in some capacity this fall.”

Six more Irish recruits will be on stage Sunday night at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Santa, Ana, Calif. (9 p.m., FOX Sports 1): Defensive end Bo Wallace, safety Prentice McKinney, wide receivers Miles Boykin and C.J. Smith, and defensive tackles Brandon Tiassum and Micah Dew-Treadway.

Four Irish commits competed in Friday’s Under Armour All-America Game at St. Petersburg, Fla.: quarterback Brandon Wimbush, kicker Justin Yoon, linebacker Te’von Coney and cornerback Shawn Crawford.

Ross selects USC for 3

Standout defensive back Ykili Ross’ decision announcement had a little bit of a twist to it after all.

Heavily expected to select USC over finalists Notre Dame, Oregon and Arizona State, the Riverside, Calif., product did indeed pick the Trojans as his college destination during Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. But during his announcement, Ross said he was going to attend USC “for the next three years.”

Ross went on to say that he hoped to play both ways for the Trojans, as a wide receiver and a safety, with defense being his main side of the ball.

The 6-foot-2, 192-pounder caught 50 passes for 988 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Riverside Poly. He added 19 tackles, three interceptions, two pass deflections and one sack in limited time on defense.

Rivals ranks Ross as the No. 3 multi-position athlete in the national 2015 class. 247Sports slates him as the No. 8 cornerback.

The Irish commitment list stands at 22 roughly 4½ weeks until National Signing Day on Feb. 4. The Irish would like to add three more players to the class — ideally another defensive back, another running back and tight end Alize Jones, who is currently committed to UCLA.

Many happy returns

College football stat guru Phil Steele has calculated returning players among all 65 Power 5 Conference teams, and the squad with the most returning starters is none other than Notre Dame, with 19.

That number could change between now and Jan. 15, for the Irish and many other schools. That’s the deadline date for underclassmen to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley are still mulling their options, though Day reportedly is leaning toward returning to ND for the 2015 season.

The three lost ND starters are cornerback Cody Riggs, tight end Ben Koyack and offensive tackle/guard Christian Lombard, the latter of whom missed ND’s 31-28 Music City Bowl Victory on Tuesday with a back injury.

The returning starter count does not include cornerback KeiVarae Russell, a starter in 2012 and 2013 before missing this season with a suspension. He and defensive end Ishaq Williams remain on track to rejoin the Irish in June.

October ratings darling Mississippi State holds the distinction of having the fewest starters returning among Power 5 teams, with seven.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame offensive line commits Jerry Tillery and Tristen Hoge run through drills during June’s Irish Invasion camp at Notre Dame. Tillery will switch to defense when he enrolls at ND later this month. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)