Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 17 of 47

18 DECEMBER 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY ANDREW MENTOCK T he injury bug has bit Notre Dame particularly hard this season, leaving marks, bumps and bruises all over the team. The entire right side of the offen- sive line went down for the season in consecutive weeks against Michi- gan and Virginia Tech, while two of the team's most productive defen- sive ends are also out for the year. Several other rotational players have missed time due to nagging ailments or more significant injuries. What's even more alarming is that many of these players were top re- cruits and major contributors. Of the 10 players who were side- lined against Boston College, seven of them were ranked among the top 110 players nationally by Rivals com- ing out of high school. Two of the others were sophomore linebacker Shayne Simon and sophomore de- fensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, who were both ranked inside the top 100 by ESPN. The third was senior Julian Okwara, a projected first- or second- round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. All 10 were consensus four-star recruits. In past seasons, having this much talent on the sidelines would have been crippling. However, heading into the regular-season finale at Stan- ford, Notre Dame was playing its best football of the season and had three straight wins by 20 points or more for the first time in decades. "We've built better depth from one through 85 in our scholarships," head coach Brian Kelly said. "We started to look at from 50 down to 85 and how important those numbers were in terms of developing those players so they could step in and keep this thing at a high level." The depth has been built through recruiting and player development. For instance, junior Josh Lugg who replaced junior Robert Hainsey at right tackle was rated as the No. 22 offensive tackle and No. 226 prospect in the class of 2017 by Rivals, and was a consensus four-star recruit. At 6-7 and 307 pounds, he was able to slide into the starting position without a significant drop-off. "Lugg is a highly recruited player," Kelly said. "His opportunity is now, and we expect him to compete at a high level for us." But the hole at right guard, left by a season-ending knee injury to former NEXT MAN IN Notre Dame has successfully dealt with a number of injuries this season Junior right tackle and team captain Robert Hainsey, a four-star recruit who was rnaked No. 108 overall nationally by Rivals, suffered a season-ending fractured ankle against Virginia Tech Nov. 2. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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