Notre Dame LB Te'von Coney, NG Jerry Tillery will return in 2018

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Jerry Tillery's Twitter bio is bilingual.

The first statement says simply, "University of Notre Dame."

The next line, however, is not as universally understood.

"Solo se vive una vez," Notre Dame's junior nose guard wrote.

Or, in English: "You only live once."

Of course, the rest of Tillery's life has yet to be written. But as for the next 12 months, a decision has been made.

On Monday, head coach Brian Kelly announced on Twitter that Tillery and fellow junior Te'von Coney will both return to Notre Dane in 2018 rather than entering the upcoming NFL Draft. Monday marked the deadline for eligible underclassmen to declare.

Previously, two of Notre Dame's junior offensive standouts — running back Josh Adams and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown — made the opposite decision, foregoing their senior seasons in South Bend in favor of the NFL.

"We talk about the mission everyday: graduate our players and win a national championship," Kelly tweeted. "While I’m excited to have Jerry and Te’von return from a football standpoint, I’m proud that they both believe in this mission and value the significance of the ND degree."

In a transcendent 2017 season, Coney — a 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker — led the Irish with 116 tackles and 13 tackles for loss, finishing with 24 more tackles than the next-highest tackler, senior Nyles Morgan. That's despite the fact that Coney started just seven games and split time at the buck linebacker position with senior captain Greer Martini.

A Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native, Coney compiled a career-best 17 tackles in Notre Dame's 21-17 Citrus Bowl win over LSU on Jan. 1. He has 191 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, three sacks and one forced fumble thus far in his three-year Irish career.

The inevitable departures of senior linebackers Morgan and Martini made Coney's return all the more crucial. Besides Coney, Notre Dame returns zero career starts at the traditional linebacker positions. That's not counting senior rover Drue Tranquill, who announced last month that he'll be back in South Bend for a fifth season in 2018.

It's reasonable to assume Irish linebackers coach Clark Lea's promotion to defensive coordinator had a tangible impact on Coney's decision to return.

Tillery, too, provides necessary depth and experience on the interior of the Notre Dame defensive line. The 6-foot-7, 306-pound nose guard totaled 56 tackles, 11 quarterback hits, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 2017, producing career highs in each of those areas. The Shreveport, La., native has 105 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in three seasons in South Bend.

In all, Notre Dame is expected to return nine defensive starters in 2018, having to replace just Morgan and senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner.


— TC4️⃣ (@TevonConey) January 16, 2018

Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery (99) celebrates a big stop by teammate Te'von Coney (4) during the Notre Dame-NC State NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame’s Nyles Morgan, left, and Te'von Coney (4) bring down LSU’s Derrius Guice (5) during the Citrus Bowl, Monday at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)