Over the last four years, Southern California has transformed into South Bend by the beach.
The Los Angeles Chargers now have four members of their defense who played their college football at Notre Dame. On the latest episode of Chargers Weekly, Irish head coach Brian Kelly shared thoughts on his former players who now wear powder blue.
S Alohi Gilman
The Chargers selected safety Alohi Gilman in the sixth round (No. 186 overall) of last month's draft. Moments after he was picked, Kelly took to Twitter to call Gilman "one of the most inspirational leaders in our locker room."
When asked what Los Angeles can expect from Gilman, Kelly's first word was "passion."
"A passion that, you'll see it both on and off the field," Kelly continued. "He'll be active in the community. He'll be somebody that immediately shows himself on the field in the way that he makes plays – just great instincts for the game.
"Some people were made to play the game of football. God made him to play this game of football."
With safety Adrian Phillips departing to New England this offseason, Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is looking for players to fill the roles that Phillips once occupied. Gilman is a candidate.
"Right now the back-up to Derwin James, that's a competitive place that we're looking at," Bradley said. "Who is that guy? A guy like (Roderic) Teamer's there, but I think that guy that can play multi-roles, and that was so impressive with Gilman. I think he's a guy that can play strong (safety), dime, nickel – really smart, really intelligent player."
LB Drue Tranquill
A fourth-round pick in 2019, linebacker Drue Tranquill made his mark on special teams before cracking the starting lineup late in the season.
It was no surprise to Kelly, who has seen first-hand what Tranquill – a two-time captain at Notre Dame – has accomplished and also endured during his football journey.
"We've seen him overcome so much," Kelly said of Tranquill. "Two ACLs, being told that he wasn't good enough coming from the state of Indiana in terms of high school football. I just think that he's that guy that has such grit and determination – such a core belief system that he's going to be successful. And, I think we've seen that in a very short period of time where's he's made his mark with the L.A. Chargers that he's gonna find his role."
Tranquill finished the 2019 season with 75 total tackles in 15 games, including three starts. He also blocked a pair of punts and was named to the Pro Football Writers Association all-rookie team as a special teamer.
DT Jerry Tillery
After a limited offseason in his rookie year due to a shoulder injury, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery is working toward a bounce-back sophomore season.
Last Wednesday, Bradley referred to Tillery as a "true pro" with regard to the work he's put in this offseason. Kelly said that he expects Tillery to play at a level that matches his 2019 first-round status (No. 28 overall).
"One thing that Jerry has is self-awareness," Kelly said. "He's very aware of his situation -- knows that he did not perform at the level that the expectations had been set for him. … A lot of that had to do with the injury, but he's never been a guy to make excuses. He won't use (it) as an excuse, and so I think you'll see a guy that is wanting to live up to maybe some of the expectations that were set with where he was drafted."
"I think for him to go through a season and go through some of the things he did, I thought you saw flashes of it where he did well," Bradley said. "I think the biggest thing that he saw was just the strength. He needed to get stronger, and I think that not being a part of a weight program in the offseason for us because of that shoulder maybe set him back a little bit.
"But I think he went into the offseason now saying, … 'You know what? I've got to get stronger, I gotta get bigger,' and he didn't take much time off and he was working hard at that aspect."
Kelly thinks the payoff for Tillery will take place in 2020.
"I'm very confident that he will deliver big in his second year with the L.A. Chargers," Kelly said.
DE Isaac Rochell
The elder statesman of the Irish-turned-Chargers, defensive end Isaac Rochell has played a key role in complementing Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Rochell has played in every game for Los Angeles over the last two seasons, including three starts in 2018 in place of an injured Bosa. He's also been a champion in the community.
During this pandemic, Rochell started an apparel company called Local Human to help bring awareness – and funds – to worthy causes.
"(He's) just unassuming, blue-collar and always somebody that you can trust, and trust in every fashion," Kelly said of Rochell. "Trust in the classroom, trust on the football field, trust in the community and man, I'll tell you what: I love Isaac Rochell. You can't have enough of them."