Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM MARCH 2022 21 BY TYLER HORKA T here are generally two attributes that make assistant coaches at- tractive to programs needing to fill vacancies: a connection to some- one already on staff and familiarity with the recruiting footprint of the school. New Notre Dame defensive line coach Al Washington had both. Washington worked briefly with Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Free- man at Cincinnati in 2017. Washington was the defensive line coach and Free- man was the defensive coordinator. That was the year Washington left the East Coast behind to get back to his roots — the Midwest. He was born in Colum- bus, Ohio, a place he spent the last three years coaching the Ohio State lineback- ers. A defensive overhaul there led to his dismissal, but Mike Elston leaving Notre Dame after 12 years for his alma mater, Michigan, afforded Washington the op- portunity to reunite with Freeman with- out having to go too far from home. Of course, he acted on that in a heart- beat. Washington's arrival on Freeman's staff was first reported just three days af- ter Elston left. The 37-year-old has been an assistant at the two top programs in the Big Ten — Ohio State and Michigan — and he was a major reason those pro- grams have acquired enough talent over the years to make that a true statement. "He is a passionate recruiter whose work in that area is going to help us com- pete for a national title," Freeman said. Only five schools had higher ranked 2022 recruiting classes than Notre Dame according to the On3 Consensus Rat- ings. One of those was Ohio State. The Buckeyes signed three five-star talents; quarterback Devin Brown, linebacker C.J. Hicks and athlete Sonny Styles. Washington was listed as the primary recruiter of the latter two. Styles' brother, Lorenzo, is a rising sophomore wide receiver at Notre Dame. Sonny Styles was a primary target for the Irish. Washington was able to get him to stay in state. Same with Hicks. It's one thing to get top tal- ent on the roster. It's another to coach and develop it. Four linebackers ranked in the top six on the Ohio State top tacklers list in 2021. Sophomore line- backer Tommy Eichenberg ranked second with 64. He also had two passes de- fended, an interception and a fumble recovery. Eichen- berg certainly wasn't the first linebacker to have suc- cess under Washington's guidance at OSU. All four of the Buckeyes' senior line- backers from the 2020 team that ad- vanced to the national championship game were on NFL rosters in August 2021. Tuf Borland was with the Minne- sota Vikings, Baron Browning with the Denver Broncos, Justin Hilliard with the San Francisco 49ers and Peter Werner with the New Orleans Saints. Werner was a Butkus Award semifinalist in 2020. Ohio State ranked No. 59 nationally in total defense in each of the last two seasons, but the Buckeyes were No. 1 in that statistic in 2019. Michigan had the No. 3 total defense in the country the year prior when Washington was on staff in Ann Arbor. He coached consensus All- American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devin Bush that season. Bush had 66 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four passes defended while Washington was his position coach. It's been five years since Washington coached the defensive line, but he in- herits a group of players who already as- pire to be the best in the country. Senior defensive end Justin Ademilola said in late January that was a realistic goal for the Notre Dame defensive line. It helps hopping around from one of the best programs in the country to the next, but it's interesting to see how pre- mier players tend to emerge from position groups he coaches no matter where he is and what his job title is. Andre Williams, for example, won the Doak Walker Award and became the 16th player in NCAA his- tory to rush for more than 2,000 yards when Washington was the running backs coach at Boston College in 2013. Williams was a Heisman Trophy finalist. "I have seen firsthand how talented Al Washington is as a coach," Freeman said. "He is a great teacher and devel- oper of his players on the field but is just as impressive in how he goes about building great men off the field." ✦ SLAM-DUNK HIRE Al Washington brings Midwest roots and – recruiting prowess to Notre Dame Washington spent the last four years coaching at the top two programs in the Big Ten, and now the Columbus, Ohio, native is set to work as the Notre Dame defensive line coach. PHOTO COURTESY BIRM/LETTERMAN ROW AL WASHINGTON BIOGRAPHY PERSONAL INFORMATION Born: April 22, 1984 Hometown: Columbus, Ohio Education: Boston College (2006, bachelor's in sociology) Playing career: Boston College, 2002-05 (defensive line) COACHING CAREER 2007: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, defensive line coach 2008: North Carolina State, graduate assistant 2009-10: Slippery Rock, defensive line coach 2011: Elon, linebackers coach 2012: Boston College, assistant special teams/defensive line coach 2013-15: Boston College, running backs coach 2016: Boston College, defensive line coach 2017: Cincinnati, defensive line coach 2018: Michigan, linebackers coach 2019-21: Ohio State, linebackers coach

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