Because of the pandemic, last fall’s college football season didn’t take place for many NCAA Division II and Division III programs. Due to the unique circumstances caused by the pandemic, student-athletes who didn’t get a chance to play last fall — especially seniors — are allowed to come back to play their senior season this coming fall, as long as they are registered for a class.
One of the beneficiaries of this ruling is Tyler Jolly, a 2017 graduate of Wellington High School. He is one of many collegiate seniors taking advantage of this unique exemption by the NCAA. Jolly is a football student-athlete at Elmhurst University, an NCAA Division III program located in Elmhurst, Illinois, about a 30-minute drive from Chicago.
For Elmhurst’s football team, Jolly wears No. 99. He will be one of the anchors along the defensive line. Why 99?
“There is no meaningful reason why I wear No. 99, but I do like wearing a double number,” Jolly explained. “In high school at Wellington, I was 22, which was my dad’s number when he played high school football in Key West.”
In his freshman year at Elmhurst, Jolly played sporadically, but mostly on special teams. During his sophomore year, he played a great deal as a rotational defensive lineman. But his junior year was decimated by an injury.
“In my junior year, I tore my ACL on the first drive of the first game,” Jolly recalled. “Then my senior year was pretty much lost to COVID-19. It was a short, four-game season this past spring. This fall will be my fifth and final year.”
He’s now on a mission to stay healthy and make his second senior season memorable and fun.
“I came here to play four years of college football, and I intend to do just that,” said Jolly, who will graduate with a degree in business management with a minor in sports management.
Playing four years of college football will conclude a lengthy playing career that started many years ago as a participant in the Western Communities Football League. He usually played quarterback. He then transitioned into four years of high school football at Wellington High School, where he was a team captain under coach Tom Abel. He was a quarterback for the junior varsity squad in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Then he switched to playing defense during his junior and senior years as a Wolverine.
Now, Jolly is getting ready to conclude his gridiron career with the Elmhurst University Blue Jays, which compete in the ultra-competitive College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW), which usually sends at least two teams a year to the NCAA Division III football playoffs.
One thing that Jolly has not experienced while playing for the Blue Jays is post-season play. “I want to know what it’s like to be in the college football playoffs,” he said.
Naturally, the ultimate goal is to win an NCAA national championship. This year’s Division III national title game will be played in mid-December at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Jolly is committed to doing his best to get the Blue Jays to Canton for that game.
“The goal every year is to qualify for the playoffs and then win a national championship,” Jolly said. “To reach big goals takes big dreams and hard work.”
That journey to Canton begins on Saturday, Sept. 4 on the road in River Falls, Wisconsin, when Elmhurst plays the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in a non-conference season opener. Two weeks later, on Saturday, Sept. 18, the Blue Jays host Carthage College in the CCIW conference opener.
Elmhurst University head football coach Jeff McDonald is expecting a great deal from Jolly this fall.
“Tyler is a leader for us on and off the field. And it is important that he continue that role this year with how young our defensive line group will be,” McDonald said. “The team already has a ton of respect for Tyler and what he overcame with his knee injury.”
One thing that Jolly has had in college is strong family support. His parents — Mark and Erica Jolly of Wellington — have always been there to cheer for him and his teammates.
“They have always come to every game in my college football career, and they plan to be there, again, this year,” Jolly said.
Jolly’s mother made it quite clear that she and her husband are his biggest fans.
“I have attended every football game he has ever played, since age 6,” Erica Jolly said. “I wouldn’t miss those games for anything in the world, and I’m going to miss watching him play once his career at Elmhurst comes to an end.”
This summer, in addition to working out in preparation for the beginning of football training camp in early August, Jolly has been putting his minor in sports management to work as a part-time employee for R2 Innovative Technologies, a Wellington-based company that oversees the scoring at LPGA golf tournaments.
Jolly worked four LPGA events this summer for R2 Innovative Technologies: the LPGA Mediheal Championship in Daly City, California; the LPGA Meijer Classic for Simply Give in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Dana in Sylvania, Ohio; and the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, Michigan.
“I’ve learned a great deal about the technical and logistical side of women’s professional golf while traveling the country,” Jolly said. “I have a greater appreciation for what takes place behind the scenes to make a pro golf tournament a reality and a success.”
Jolly made a positive impression on the leadership at R2 Innovative Technologies.
“Tyler has taken a team approach to his work with R2 on the LPGA Tour,” said Rich Schoenfeld, a Wellington resident and vice president of R2 Innovative Technologies. “He has clearly shown that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
In the meantime, Jolly’s immediate attention will be on getting stronger, fitter and faster for the upcoming football season. He and his teammates will have to be at their best if they want to experience playoff football later this fall and have a chance to end their season as national champions.