Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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8 NOV. 26, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Benjamin Morrison Is The One We Didn't See Coming By Tyler Horka If any of the class of 2022 defensive backs were going to break out for the Fighting Irish this fall, everyone was adamant it was going to be Jaden Mickey — the highest-ranked of Notre Dame's three signees in the secondary. None of the three were guaranteed any sort of play- ing time whatsoever. Notre Dame has a veteran corps of defensive backs, from graduate student TaRiq Bracy, senior Cam Hart and junior Clarence Lewis at cornerback to graduate students DJ Brown and Houston Griffith and senior Brandon Joseph at safety. The Irish have been solid on the back end, too, rank- ing a respectable 26th in passing defense through 10 games. True freshman Benjamin Morrison has played a major role in garnering that statistic. Morrison ranked No. 1 on the team in interceptions with 2 and second on the team in passes broken up with 3 through Notre Dame's first 10 games. Both of his picks came in the Irish's biggest win of the season, a 35-14 blow- out of then-No. 4 Clemson. There's an argument to be made the Irish would not have won that game without Morrison's performance. Morrison has caught the attention of former Notre Dame defensive backs Julian Love of the New York Giants and Troy Pride Jr., formerly of the Carolina Panthers. He must be doing something right. Now to saw those two saw it coming. That's a different story. Did anybody outside of the Irish coaching staff? Audric Estime Came Out Of Nowhere By Todd D. Burlage In the preseason my colleagues and I put together a countdown for Blueand- of whom we projected would be the top 25 Irish players this season. And checking in at only No. 21, Notre Dame sophomore tailback Audric Estime barely even made the list. Two of my five colleagues that participated in the voting and rankings — including the talented Tyler Horka — didn't even list Estime on their top-25 ballots. Now, three months and 10 games into the 2022 sea- son, if we could revisit and re-rank the players, it would be hard to keep Estime out of the top five, maybe even the top three. He led all Irish ball carriers in rushing yards (711), rushing touchdowns (9) and yards per carry (5.7) through Week 11. He has three 100-yard rushing games this season, and the bruising back also has a legitimate chance to reach 1,000 rushing yards with a strong finish. Estime entered this season considered the No. 3 rushing option behind ju- nior Chris Tyree and sophomore Logan Diggs. Instead, the Nyack, N.Y., native became more productive than both of his tailback teammates and proved that he's a versatile every-down back, not just a short-yardage guy. Now, consider that Estime recorded just 7 carries for 60 yards as a fresh- man last season — which ranked only fourth among all Notre Dame tailbacks — and it's impossible not to consider him as not only the most pleasant surprise on the team this season, but the most improved player as well. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHAT INDIVIDUAL HAS HAD THE MOST SURPRISING SEASON FOR NOTRE DAME? Notre Dame had a built-in re- cruiting advantage when it came to luring Justin Ademilola to campus. A product of St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J., Ademilola attended the same high school as former Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush and former Notre Dame linebacker Shayne Simon. Ademilola, a Notre Dame graduate student, also is a cousin of classmate and current Irish defensive back TaRiq Bracy. And all of the above players strongly urged Justin and his twin brother Jayson Ademilola to give Notre Dame serious consider- ation during their recruitment. The brothers took the advice, attended a Notre Dame summer camp, received their scholarship offers and committed together on the drive back home in June 2016, before their high school junior year. Jayson, a defensive tackle, and Justin, an edge player, have become mainstays on the Irish defense. Justin entered the Boston College game ranked sixth on the team in tackles (32) and was tied for second in sacks (2.5). He still has another eligibil- ity year if he chooses to come back in 2023. It's a decision he said he hasn't made yet. BGI: What were your feelings when you came to Notre Dame for the first time? Ademilola: "I just loved it immediately. I didn't look at any depth charts or anything like that, I just knew I was coming here. I'm going to work my way on the field. I'm going to earn myself a degree here and just do everything the right way." BGI: How do you try to project yourself as a player and a leader? Ademilola: "I'd like to make sure the younger guys have the tools and what it takes to be a leader here at Notre Dame. One of the traits that I have always had is that I do things the right way and a lot of guys follow. So, I just carry myself the same way." BGI: What 's the message you try to pass along to your younger teammates? Ademilola: "Playing in this defense, making sure they're doing the right things so when I do leave, there is no drop-off in the tradition, because the tradi- tion here will never change. "I took a big part in that role this year, making sure that I can help, and coach, and lead, and be there for the younger guys on and, most impor- tantly, off the field." BGI: How would you de- scribe your legacy at Notre Dame? Ademilola: "I'm an ND man forever, and I'm proud of that. That's what you're going to get out of Notre Dame. You're going to do everything the right way and you're going to grow as a person." BGI: What has your time at Notre Dame meant to you? Ademilola: "It's just an opportunity that I'm for- ever grateful for, forever respectful for. It's a special opportunity to come here and play for five years." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … GRADUATE STUDENT DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JUSTIN ADEMILOLA Through 10 games, Ademilola ranked sixth on the team in tackles (32) and was tied for second in sacks (2.5). PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER ESTIME MORRISON

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