Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM DECEMBER 2022 7 BY PATRICK ENGEL T he COVID-19 bonus season of eligi- bility has taken some of the inherent finality out of Senior Days the last few years. In Notre Dame's case, the Irish have 25 scholarship players who are aca- demic seniors and graduate students (in- cluding injured wide receiver Avery Da- vis). Only eight have expiring eligibility. Head coach Marcus Freeman initially said that anyone who is recognized on Se- nior Day has decided this is his last season at Notre Dame. He clarified that stance two days before the Nov. 19 ceremony and emphasized it is not binding and players may not have made a final decision. "At the beginning of the year, I wanted the guys who planned on this being their last year to say this is my last year, because we do some differ- ent things with our seniors through the season, in terms of fall camp and recog- nizing them in different ways," Freeman said. "There are a couple guys who have an option after the season after they get their NFL grade reports. What I don't want them to do is not participate in Senior Day and then to go the NFL. "If there's a possibility this is your last year of playing football, I want you to be part of Senior Day, and those will be the guys we're recognizing." Not all the 25 scholarship seniors and graduate students were among the 25 Senior Day honorees (including walk- ons) before the Irish's 44-0 win over Boston College. Here's a rundown of who was honored and a look at the academic seniors who were not part of the festivities. It's best to view a player's inclusion or absence from Senior Day as an indication of his 2023 plans, but not a final decision. Minds change. Plans change. That's life in col- lege football in 2022. None of the honor- ees or those not part of the ceremony had formally announced plans for 2023 yet. NOTRE DAME GRADUATE STUDENT SENIOR DAY HONOREES OUT OF ELIGIBILITY AFTER 2022 • Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle • Bo Bauer, linebacker • TaRiq Bracy, cornerback • Avery Davis, wide receiver (medically retired) • Houston Griffith, safety • Blake Grupe, kicker • Josh Lugg, offensive line • Chris Smith, defensive tackle • Jon Sot, punter (walk-on) Each of these players used the COVID-19 bonus year to play a bonus season of college football. Bau- er's return put him in position to break the career games played record of 61, but a torn ACL in October cut his campaign short. He was injured too late in the season to redshirt and preserve a year of eligibility. Bauer's injury paved the way for Griffith to break the record, which he can do by playing in 13 games this year. He has appeared in the first 11. GRADUATE STUDENT HONOREES WITH AN OPTION TO PLAY A SIXTH SEASON • Justin Ademilola, defensive end • DJ Brown, safety • Michael Graves, safety (walk-on) • Braden Lenzy, wide receiver • Greg Mailey, wide receiver (walk-on) • Jarrett Patterson, offensive guard • Matt Salerno, wide receiver • Michael Vinson, long snapper These players have the COVID-19 year available to use in 2023. Patterson is a projected mid-round draft pick who turned down the NFL last year. He's by far the least likely of anyone in this group to use the sixth year. TRUE SENIORS HONORED ON SENIOR DAY • Osita Ekwonu, defensive end • Isaiah Foskey, defensive end • Cam Hart, cornerback • Zane Heemsoth, defensive line (walk-on) • Brandon Joseph, safety • Christian Opperman, linebacker (walk-on) • Wide receiver Conor Ratigan (walk-on) • Hunter Spears, offensive line (medically retired) Every scholarship player in this group redshirted in 2019 and has two seasons of eligibility left. Foskey put off the NFL Draft last winter, foregoing a likely Day 2 selection. He made clear his return was only for one more season and graduates in December. Joseph and Hart have appeared in 2023 NFL Draft position rankings, but not on big boards or the in first round of mock drafts. They likely have pro futures next season if they wish to pursue them. As of Nov. 19, Ekwonu has appeared in 15 career games and made 6 tackles. His being part of the ceremony might be a sign of an upcoming transfer. TRUE SENIORS NOT PART OF THE CEREMONY • Guard Andrew Kristofic • Guard Zeke Correll • Defensive end Nana Osafo-Mensah • Defensive tackle Howard Cross III • Linebacker JD Bertrand • Linebacker Marist Liufau • Linebacker Jack Kiser This group has four primary starters on this year's team (Correll, Cross, Bertrand, Liufau). Kiser has made 13 career starts as of Nov. 19, and Kristofic has made eight. Osafo-Mensah has been a rotation player the last two years. Choosing not to be part of Senior Day seems like a sign they are leaning toward returning in 2023 for a fifth season or have reached that decision privately. Each player has eligibility through 2024 because he redshirted in 2019. ✦ UNDER THE DOME SENIOR SENDOFF Notre Dame honored 25 seniors before its final home game, but Marcus Freeman left door open for some to return Defensive end Isaiah Foskey was among the Senior Day honorees before the 44-0 win over Boston College Nov. 19. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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