Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2021

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 8 of 39 FEBRUARY 2021 9 UNDER THE DOME Team Need Makes It Houston Griffith By Todd D. Burlage When a top-50 prospect out of high school can't crack the starting lineup during three years in a college program, and ultimately transfers because of it, blame for this failed football marriage falls on both the player and his coaches. Such is the case for Irish defensive back Houston Griffith, who in January added his name to the NCAA's transfer portal and could finish his career elsewhere (if opting not to return to Notre Dame). Rated by Rivals as the No. 4 safety and the No. 43 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, Griffith — a Chicago native — endured a rocky ride during his three seasons at Notre Dame. A nickel in pass coverage as a freshman in 2018, then a cornerback turned safety as a sophomore and then a backup safety in 2020 behind sixth-year senior Shaun Crawford, these position switches stunted Griffith's growth and kept him from ever finding "his spot" in the secondary. Nothing was guaranteed for Griffith in 2021 — the 6-0, 204-pounder was projected to be a starter at safety in 2020 — but with Crawford now gone, this upcoming season set up perfectly for Griffith to finally feel comfortable at a single position, shed any preconceived notions with a new defensive co- ordinator and safeties coach to evaluate him, lock down a starting spot, and finally answer the recruiting hype he brought to college out of the football factory IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. And given the player need Notre Dame faces in its secondary — especially at safety — Griffith will be missed more than any other Irish transfer. Ovie Oghoufo Was In Line To Be Featured More By Lou Somogyi Over the past three years, Notre Dame has fea- tured exceptional four- and even five-man rota- tions at defensive end that have helped keep legs fresh during the season. Even after graduating current NFL players Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem — plus the effective Jamir Jones — at the end of the 2019 campaign, the Irish still had a quality fifth-year senior duo in 2020 with Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes, who like Okwara and Kareem were team captains. Ogundeji and Hayes are now also off to the pros, which leaves a new void at defensive end — and the somewhat surprising decision by junior Ovie Oghoufo to enter his name into the transfer portal. A quick-twitch player in the mold of Okwara, the former three-star line- backer recruit was on a five-year plan much like Ogundeji and appeared to be "on schedule," as Ogundeji was after his third season, including 149 snaps played by Oghoufo this year (18 versus Alabama). Current sophomore Isaiah Foskey is the future linchpin with star potential at end. He could line up at vyper or even the strong side, while junior Justin Ademilola might be the heir at strong-side end if Foskey is not utilized there. Regardless, going into his senior year, Oghoufo was in line to be featured more, along with current freshman vyper Jordan Botelho. While safety Houston Griffith's loss definitely stands out more because of the fanfare with which he arrived, Oghoufo's absence also is a bit of a surprise because of the track record of development at the position among those who stay. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHICH PLAYER IN THE TRANSFER PORTAL MIGHT BE MISSED MOST? For all of the forgettable events and difficult interruptions the 2020 calendar brought under a COVID-19 cloud, Notre Dame freshman Landon Slaggert still enjoyed a pretty darn good year. In August, the rookie forward joined a hockey pro- gram where his father, Andy, has spent 28 seasons as an assistant coach and his older brother Graham is a veteran junior forward. Then, in October, the younger Slaggert was selected No. 79 overall in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. And in December, he joined the USA World Junior National Team, with which he claimed a gold medal in January at the 2021 World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, after a 2-0 win over Canada. Slaggert returned to Notre Dame after his gold medal run and promptly scored two goals in a 5-4 win over Arizona State in his first game back Jan. 9. A week later in the 3-2 and 2-1 series sweep of No. 1 Minnesota on the road, he had a goal and assist (to his brother) in the opener. The rookie standout recently discussed becom- ing only the third Irish player (Mario Lucia in 2013 and Kyle Palmieri in 2010) to ever win gold in the World Junior Championship. BGI: How do you reflect on what a strange but satisfying year 2020 was? Slaggert: "It has definitely been very emotional. It has been crazy with everything that is going on in the world, but yeah, lots of good things have hap- pened in my hockey career. It was special, obviously, to play my first game in the Notre Dame sweater, and then also to get drafted by the Blackhawks — that was a special moment for me and my family — and all of that then leading onto world juniors, kind of those three big things definitely brought some enjoyment and enlightened the tough year of 2020." BGI: What was it like standing atop the podium, singing the U.S. National Anthem and wearing a gold medal? Slaggert: "I don't even know if I can put it into words. There is nothing like it, just kind of being there with your brothers singing the nation's song. There is not really a way to describe that feeling, but I'll tell you it's one of the best feelings I've ever had." BGI: What was it like growing up locally in a hockey family with your father as an established Notre Dame coach and two brothers who are also gifted players? Slaggert: "It's definitely a competitive house- hold with my dad there, just kind of pushing us. And I think we pushed each other to be better and just competitive at anything we did, whether that's video games, mini stick [hockey], football in the backyard, [we're a] very competitive fam- ily that kind of drove us all to prove our games. And also, I think even in the classroom, just to kind of compete with grades." BGI: Given your unique family circum- stances and deep ties to Notre Dame, explain the recruiting journey that ulti- mately kept you home? Slaggert: "Obviously, having my dad, it's definitely a different process than many other kids that go through it. … After a while, [Notre Dame] finally offered me and I was thinking maybe to look at some other schools. "But I think at the end of the day I made the right choice, it felt like home and being so close to my family, too." BGI: And now, you play next to your older brother [Graham] at an elite college level, what's that like? Slaggert: "It's a unique experience. I've always just played with him in practice and stuff, but never in a game and now we're finally together on the same team. "It's definitely a special dynamic. His vision and play-making abilities definitely complement my grit and tenacity on the puck, so I think we definitely work well together." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … FRESHMAN HOCKEY FORWARD LANDON SLAGGERT SLAGGERT GRIFFITH OGHOUFO

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - February 2021