Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2020

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

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Page 6 of 55 JANUARY 2020 7 BY LOU SOMOGYI F rom his first day in practice at Notre Dame when he intercepted three passes, freshman safety Kyle Hamilton made an immediate im‑ pression and impact on the 10‑2 Fighting Irish this regular season. The rookie's play earned him Fresh‑ man All‑America honors from Pro Football Focus, which grades each in‑ dividual on every play in every game. His four interceptions were the sec‑ ond most by a Fighting Irish fresh‑ man since the NCAA permanently permitted freshman eligibility in 1972, and his six passes broken up were the fourth highest. Yet, such data didn't tell the full story, per PFF, which wrote: "Notre Dame landed the best coverage safety in the entire 2019 recruiting class. Hamilton recorded a near‑elite 89.7 coverage grade in his true freshman season, allowing just seven passes to be completed on 22 targets. Those seven went for 74 yards and no touch‑ downs … a passer rating of 3.0 when targeted, best among all defenders in the nation with at least 15 targets." Was Hamilton's play the best ever by a Notre Dame safety in his fresh‑ man season since eligibility was per‑ mitted 48 seasons ago? Here's our top five: 1. Luther Bradley (1973) He rivals classmate and defensive end Ross Browner as the greatest freshman game‑changer in Notre Dame history. Both started from day one during a national title campaign, with Bradley stepping in at strong safety, where he combined linebacker hitting ability with his 6‑2 size to complement his corner cover skills. During this championship season, Bradley paced the team in both in‑ terceptions (six) and passes broken up (11), freshman standards that still remain at Notre Dame. 2. Randy Harrison (1974) After attrition took its toll at safety on head coach Ara Parseghian's final team, the Indiana native stepped in at free safety and logged a remark‑ able 296:17 in playing time, among the most on the 10‑2 team. He led the secondary in tackles (57), was second in passes broken up (seven) and scored touchdowns on both of his interceptions, totaling 84 yards. In the 13‑11 Orange Bowl victory versus 11‑0 and No. 1 Alabama, he added seven solo tackles. 3. Bobby Taylor (1992) When he stepped into the starting lineup for the last seven games at free safety, the Irish became as good as anyone in the country during a 7‑0 finish, the last four coming against ranked teams. Taylor tied for the team lead in passes broken up (nine), made 37 tackles and blocked an extra point that made a difference in a 17‑16 vic‑ tory versus Penn State in a year the 10‑1‑1 Irish finished No. 4. 4. Kyle Hamilton (2019) Despite the return of two senior captains at safety, Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, Hamilton proved too good to keep on the sidelines, and the staff found a role for him. He re‑ corded 384 snaps (32 per game). 5t. Todd Lyght (1987) One of Notre Dame's greatest cor‑ ners ever began his career at safety. He played in all 12 games his rookie year and started twice at free safety. In 145:40 of action he recorded 29 tackles, blocked a punt, broke up two passes, intercepted a pass and caused a fumble. 5t. Tom Carter (1990) Exclusively a high school quarter‑ back, Carter made six straight starts at free safety, beginning with the sec‑ ond game of the season, a 20‑19 vic‑ tory at Michigan State. In 162:59 of ac‑ tion he was credited with 19 tackles. However, he was replaced by fellow freshman Willie Clark in the last three games. Clark made a game‑high 12 tackles and recovered a fumble in the 10‑9 Orange Bowl loss to Colorado. Many of Notre Dame's most prom‑ inent safeties in this century did not play as freshmen. They include Tom Zbikowski (2003), Kyle McCarthy (2005), and first‑round pick and Pro Bowl regular Harrison Smith (2007). It would seem safety is easier to play as a freshman than cornerback. Bradley, Lyght, Taylor and Carter be‑ came corners after their freshman seasons. Carter joined Bradley and Lyght as first‑round NFL Draft picks, and like Taylor (a second‑round selec‑ tion) went to the NFL after his junior year. ✦ UNDER THE DOME RARE ROOKIE Kyle Hamilton earns Freshman All-America honors Pro Football Focus awarded Hamilton a near- elite 89.7 coverage grade, and his 3.0 passer rating on the 22 targets he faced was the best among all defenders in the nation with at least 15 passes thrown their way. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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