It was near the end of the spring semester when Tyler Shelvin — all 6-foot-3, 365 pounds of him — cut quite a figure on the gymnasium floor at Notre Dame during the school’s annual dodgeball tournament.
“I’d never done anything like that before,” Shelvin smiled. “It was real fun. It came to me that I fit in perfectly. It was like a family.”
Even though his team didn’t win the event, Shelvin still felt like a winner. He said he took several pictures with fellow students afterward, a result that helped make him feel a part of the student body.
Just four months before, Shelvin was an outsider without a friend at the school. He was hopeful of embarking on a new path, one that would get him back in good academic standing and enable him to realize his goal of playing college football.
“I thought my dreams were going to go to waste,” said Shelvin, who committed to LSU in March of 2015.
Shelvin called it a “team” decision — a choice agreed upon by his grandmother, mother and father — to leave Northside, where he allowed his grades to slip in the wake of the departure of his beloved football coach, Trev Faulk, several months before.
His family sought a transfer at the end of January to Notre Dame where Shelvin arrived at 370 pounds — 40 over his playing weight in 2015 — and academically ineligible for the spring semester.
“I knew his family wanted him at Notre Dame,” longtime Pioneers coach Lewis Cook said. “I told Tyler it didn’t matter what they wanted. I asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted to come here.”
Not in four decades of coaching, both at the high school or college level, had Cook said he ever coached a five-star prospect such as Shelvin, regarded the nation’s No. 25 overall prospect by 247 Sports and the No. 2 defensive tackle.
Cook was quick to remind Shelvin that Notre Dame completed a 14-0 run to the Division III state championship last season with one college signee (safety Hayden Bourgeois to Northwestern State) and without any players drawing star ratings from national recruiting services.
Before trying to help Shelvin get on the field, Cook was steadfast in trying to help him gain academic stability to not only attain passing grades at Notre Dame but develop better study habits he could sustain into college.
“I take responsibility and shouldn’t have gotten myself in that type of predicament. I knew better,” Shelvin said. “I couldn’t believe I was in that position.”
Once Shelvin transferred and moved to Crowley with his mother and his younger sister (an incoming freshman at Notre Dame), Cook laid out the academic benchmarks he needed to obtain.
By the end of the semester, Shelvin pulled up three of his four failing grades to gain his eligibility for the 2016 season. He also took and passed an online correspondence course in economics with a ‘B’ during the spring.
He’s also taking two online courses this summer for extra credit to improve his grade-point average and should successfully complete summer school with a passing grade in U.S. History.
“I felt I could do it as long as I applied myself,” Shelvin said. “I had the support system and came out with a different result. It’s a big change academic-wise, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Shelvin’s also adapted to increased expectations on the football field.
Notre Dame’s 5:30 a.m. workouts in the spring were an eye-opening experience and the Pios are currently working out four times a week during the summer.
Shelvin expects to play closer to his weight of last season, where Cook envisions a player he likens athletically to Warren Sapp and Glenn Dorsey, giving the Pios a formidable piece in the middle of their defense.
“Notre Dame’s accepted me and cares for me,” said Shelvin, who will take part in next month’s Nike Opening and Under Armour All-American Game in January. “I’m doing things now that I’ve never done before. They want to see me succeed. I’ll do the same for them.”