Toughness is a defining characteristic of Trevor Reilly’s personality.
Reilly’s grit on Utah’s defense was displayed last season when he played with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Rather than opting for surgery and ending his junior season, Reilly wore a heavy brace and played through the pain.
Then in the offseason, he battled a different kind of pain when his daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
His perseverance earned him the respect of his teammates, who made Reilly a team captain during the final week of fall camp.
”He’s the team leader,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ”If you had to pick one guy who is the leader of the entire team it would be Trevor. We expect a big year out of him.”
The Utes are turning to Reilly to fill a key role this season. He’ll start at either defensive end or stud linebacker, shifting from one position to the other based on the package. Reilly takes his responsibility quite seriously.
”To be picked from your peers to represent them is an absolute honor,” Reilly said. ”I’m going to do the best I can not to just be a great player, but to help these guys. If the ship goes down, I’m the last one on. That means I got to be a leader.”
Reilly’s resolve was strengthened during the offseason. The knee injury, as it turned out, was the least of his worries.
Reilly’s 11-month-old daughter Shayn was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Doctors removed a fist-sized tumor from Shayn’s kidney and she’s now undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatments.
Shayn’s doctors are optimistic that once she finishes chemotherapy in December the cancer will go into remission. The baby takes after her dad.
”He’s a fighter and that carries over to his kids and his wife,” Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said. ”He infects everybody he knows with that mentality of fighting through everything and overcoming adversity.”
Reilly has not let any of these challenges affect him in a negative way. He is committed to helping his team bounce back from last season’s 5-7 finish.
Switching between the defensive line and linebacker is not a huge adjustment for Reilly. He started four games at right end a year ago and feels like his coaches laid the basic groundwork for approaching plays from the line of scrimmage early in his career.
”That’s the biggest thing,” Reilly said. ”If you can get used to getting your head in there and mixing it up, that’s what makes a D-lineman different. You got to go take on linemen and take on lead blockers. I have the base to be able to do that now. The rest of it is just all technique, assignment and alignment.”
Reilly showed he had big-play potential as a junior. He led Utah with 69 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Reilly had seven or more tackles in five different games. It was enough to help him earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year ago.
Reilly is hungry to prove he can do more this fall. He never felt like he was as good as he could have been because of his injury.
”Last year was a hard year for him,” Sitake said. ”He was frustrated because he wasn’t performing as well as he normally does. To me, it was far beyond what I expected him to do considering the limitations.”
Taking on a physical role in Utah’s defense is Reilly’s personal trademark. He loves playing with a little edge. He enjoys the physical and mental toughness required to be a defensive end and a linebacker at the same time.
Only a few players are built to handle such a role. The best part for Reilly will come when opposing teams try to figure out what to do with him.
”It makes the opposing teams have to do more scout work,” Reilly said. ”They have to do more preparation. We can disguise looks with me being on the defensive line or linebacker.”