- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jerry Tillery has earned plenty of attention at Notre Dame in just two-plus weeks of practices this spring. The early-enrollee freshman is already taking first-team reps on the Irish's defensive line. Head coach Brian Kelly has repeatedly praised him, saying last week that the rookie is "far and away the story" so far -- a player unique to Kelly's 25-year head-coaching career.
And to think, Tillery was initially recruited as an offensive tackle. Not that his offensive coaches are living in the past or anything.
"Oh God," associate head coach and receivers coach Mike Denbrock said Wednesday, when asked what it was like to see Tillery switch to defense. "It was like, tears, you know? I don't like to admit as a man that I cry, but that was a tough one, for sure. Obviously we're all in it to do what's best for our football team. But he obviously would've been -- if he's doing the amazing things he's doing on defense, you can imagine what he'd be as a left tackle."
The 6-foot-6.5, 300-pound Tillery was an ESPN four-star prospect when coming out of Evangel Christian Academy (Shreveport, La.). He was ranked as the nation's No. 30 offensive tackle, and its No. 280 player overall. But those numbers apparently do not tell the story for a player who made the move just before his January arrival to campus.
Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand expressed similar regret to Denbrock in not having the chance to get his hands on Tillery, although he was not too surprised at the position change. Hiestand said that he had scouted Evangel Christian's spring game, during which Tillery played on the defensive line. The fourth-year Irish assistant joked that he did not tell anyone, despite the prepster's potential on that side of the ball being obvious.
Asked if he had a say in Tillery leaving his unit, Hiestand cracked: "My say was no."