Careers begin this week for four Notre Dame football recruits
He was too young to remember the exact details, but Jerry Tillery points to a specific game that guided his path to Notre Dame.
It was the 1997 Independence Bowl, and Notre Dame came to Tillery’s hometown, Shreveport, La., to take on LSU. The Tigers won the game, but the Irish won Tillery. Since he verbally committed to Notre Dame in June 2013, the 6-foot-6, 308-pound lineman has pointed to that December day, when a 14-month-old Tillery attended the game with his family, as the start of a lifelong appreciation of Notre Dame.
That affinity for Notre Dame will continue on Tuesday when Tillery starts classes as a freshman.
"It's surreal that I'm about to go to college,” Tillery said last week before starting his trek to South Bend. “It feels good.”
Tillery joins three other Irish football recruits – offensive lineman Tristen Hoge, linebacker Te’von Coney and defensive lineman Micah Dew-Treadway – as Notre Dame’s 2015 crop of early enrolling students. They will each become one of 35 players to start their careers at Notre Dame in January of their freshman year since it was first allowed in 2006. The football program announced the addition of all four players on Monday.
For Tillery, a four-star recruit, the chance to start his college career early just made sense.
“I finished all my high school credits and figured why not,” Tillery said. I had the opportunity so I went with it.”
The option to seize an opportunity also led Tillery to an 11th hour position switch. Recruited initially by Notre Dame as an offensive tackle, Tillery asked if he could play defensive line when spring practice starts later this year. He played both at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport and saw a quicker path to the playing field on the defensive line at Notre Dame. Tillery was ranked as high as the No. 6 offensive tackle in the 2015 class by Rivals.
“I told them that's what I wanted to do, and they were down with it,” Tillery said. “They were actually happier with me there. This was all my decision.”
The other three early-enrolling Notre Dame recruits made decisions of their own that led them to their first college semester starting on Tuesday. Each circumstance produced a positive result for the Irish.
LB Te’von Coney, 6-1, 222; Palm Beach (Fla.) Gardens: Coney committed to Notre Dame in October, but his recruitment was far from over. Both Miami and Florida would make last-minute pushes for the talented linebacker.
“It was very hard because they made great points,” Coney said. “Miami actually showed me some things that I honestly didn't know about throughout the recruitment. They made it very hard. My hat's off to Miami for staying true and not giving up even though I committed. At the end, I still felt like Notre Dame was the best option for me."
Florida, who replaced head coach Will Muschamp with Jim McElwain in December, tried to reignite the flame with a new coaching staff.
"Florida's new staff reached out to me a lot,” Coney said. “They were trying to prove to me that they wanted me there and that they need linebackers. They were hoping I would switch and come to Florida to live out my original dream which was to go to Florida."
Enrolling at Notre Dame in January allowed him to stick with his decision and not have to wait until signing day in February.
“I always wanted to play early,” Coney said. “I can give myself a better opportunity if I get up there early. I'll be able to get in and start on my academics early. It will allow me to get into the system with less commotion."
Rivals ranks Coney as a four-star prospect and the No. 11 inside linebacker in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him as a three-star recruit and No. 12 at the position.
DL Micah Dew-Treadway, 6-5, 275; Bolingbrook (Ill.) High: A fellow Bolingbrook graduate showed a young Dew-Treadway the benefits early enrollment could produce. Antonio Morrison, a linebacker at Bolingbrook, enrolled at Florida in January 2012. By the end of his freshman season, Morrison played in all 13 games and started in four of them.
“To see him compete and get to second-string so early that if somebody went down he would get that chance, I decided I wanted to do that too,” Dew-Treadway said.
Dew-Treadway, a three-star prospect, will join a young defensive line at Notre Dame. He said he knows playing time won’t be had easily, but he’s ready to make himself a better player. He learned how much farther he has to go at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. Rivals ranks Dew-Treadway as the No. 33 defensive tackle in the 2015 class. 247Sports him as the No. 37 strongside defensive end.
“I loved the level of competition. It really brings out the best in you having to go against guys who are just as good if not better than you are,” Dew-Treadway said. “Another thing is seeing people at your position who may be better and taking the things that they do well and putting it in your game.”
Dew-Treadway has been at the center of a Notre Dame recruiting class that’s grown closer in the last several months. Social media and text messaging have accelerated the relationships between many of the members of the class.
“We figure if we can get that chemistry off the field, that camaraderie and trust in each other, then on the field it will be just like playing for your little brother or your dad,” Dew-Treadway said. “One thing I always say is if I can move mountains for my mom, why can't I move mountains for my brother? Even if it's somebody that's not blood."
His first display of compassion for a fellow classmate might come in helping Coney adjust to the South Bend winter.
"I don't know what I'm going to do,” Dew-Treadway said. “I think he might have to be wearing some of my clothes. I don't want my linebacker to be cold. I have a couple jackets he can wear."
OL Tristen Hoge, 6-4, 276; Pocatello (Idaho) Highland: Hoge had long planned to start college early.
“My freshman year with my counselor we planned a way for me to graduate early,” Hoge said. “I saw the opportunity that I would get to participate in spring football. That's a huge leg up on regular enrollees because now I get those extra practices and the Blue-Gold Game. By the time the season rolls around, everybody will be starting to gather their bearings and I'll be one step ahead."
Hoge has been one-step ahead in his recruitment for quite some time. Only Tillery verbally committed to Notre Dame’s 2015 class before him. His parents bought a home near Notre Dame’s campus last summer, and he slowly moved his belongings to South Bend. Hoge had extra time to prepare for college after graduating in November because of his high school’s trimester system.
“It really helped me gather my mindset about what college is going to be like, absorb what I had left back home in Pocatello and leave no stone unturned there,” Hoge said. “It makes this transition coming here that much easier. Getting everything that I needed done there, I'm not worried about Pocatello anymore. I'm worried about getting my football and studies done here."
Hoge, a four-star prospect and the nation’s No. 1 center according to Rivals and 247Sports, arrived in town for good earlier this month after competing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. A crosstown haul will simplify his move into the dorms.
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Notre Dame first allowed football recruits to enroll for the spring semester in 2006 under head coach Charlie Weis. The process has resulted in varying success for freshmen. The list will grow to 35 players with the addition of four recruits in Notre Dame's 2015 class.
RB James Aldridge
OL Chris Stewart
WR George West
RB Armando Allen
QB Jimmy Clausen
CB Gary Gray
DL Sean Cwynar
OL Trevor Robinson
CB E.J. Banks
SS Zeke Motta
DL Tyler Stockton
SS Chris Badger
CB Spencer Boyd
WR Tai-ler Jones
QB Tommy Rees
CB Lo Wood
K/P Kyle Brindza
DE Brad Carrico
QB Everett Golson
DE Aaron Lynch
DE/OLB Ishaq Williams
DT Sheldon Day
QB Gunner Kiel
CB Tee Shepard
OL Steve Elmer
TE Mike Heuerman
WR James Onwualu
WR Corey Robinson
QB Malik Zaire
WR Justin Brent
DE Andrew Trumbetti
LB Te’von Coney
DT Micah Dew-Treadway
OL Tristen Hoge
DL Jerry Tillery