Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2016

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

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54 OCT. 17, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A round the middle of the 1980s, Notre Dame was in its infancy with expanding its redshirting definition. Previously, a fifth season of eligibil- ity at the school had been awarded only to the players who had either missed a full season of action for medical reasons, or because they had to leave school for a year due to disci- plinary/personal matters. The word "redshirting" — de- liberately keeping an athlete out of varsity competition for one year to develop skills and extend eligibility — was taboo at Notre Dame, because it was perceived as putting athlet- ics ahead of academics. The mission statement of a Fighting Irish student- athlete was to graduate in four years and then move on with life. Besides … redshirting was viewed as something for the less competi- tive football schools who could not recruit premier athletes such as Notre Dame, which was 148-33-5 (.809) from 1964-80 with three consensus national titles and at least three other near misses. However, when Notre Dame stum- bled to a 35-32-1 record from 1981-86, with three losing seasons, it quietly and gradually began to withhold athletes from action as freshmen to preserve a potential fifth season of eligibility. Now, here we are about 30 years later, and Notre Dame faces a differ- ent quandary with redshirting. For more than a decade, freshmen have been able to enroll at Notre Dame in summer school to accumulate aca- demic credit hours. This often puts them on pace to graduate in three and a half years, and for many that allows them to use what would be their second semester senior year to prepare for the NFL Draft, if they are so talented or fortunate to do so. Not including sixth-year se- nior safety Avery Sebastian, Notre Dame has only three redshirt seniors this year: nose guard Jarron Jones, backup offensive lineman Mark Har- rell and long snapper Scott Daly. "I would love to have 20 of 'em," head coach Brian Kelly said. "It just doesn't happen here. These kids get their degrees early and … if they're not playing they move on to another school, or Wall Street or the NFL." Notre Dame recruits well enough — generally top-10 to top-15 level — to sign about a half-dozen or so NFL prospects per year, but it doesn't recruit at the level of Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson et al to withstand con- sistent NFL attrition. Thus, redshirt- ing can almost become moot because: • If you're indeed a top-level player — a Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, etc. — you're fortu- nate to get them a fourth year, never mind a fifth. That might be the case with current junior quarterback De- Shone Kizer (redshirted in 2014), too. • If you're a top player as a se- nior, i.e. Ronnie Stanley, Louis Nix … you don't need the fifth season — although senior tackle Mike Mc- Glinchey has indicated he does plan to come back in 2017 the way cur- rent Pro Bowl offensive lineman Zack Martin did in 2013. • At skill positions — quarterback, running back, wide receiver and cornerback — if you're really good, you shouldn't need a fifth season in college. If sophomore QB Brandon Wimbush, who is being redshirted this year, is as good as the staff thinks he might be, he could take over in 2017 (if Kizer turns pro) and 2018, and be good enough to turn pro then. If he's not, that would suggest a problem with his development. • If you get your degree and then believe you could better showcase your skills elsewhere like quarterback Everett Golson (Florida State) or center Matt Hegarty (Oregon) — probably something that is also going through senior quarterback Malik Zaire's mind now — then that's another option. • If you're really bright like two- year starting guard Steve Elmer, you can graduate in three years and move on to a high-level job in Washington, D.C., and leave football behind even before you are a senior. "Our guys have great options and generally they're not hanging out for a fifth year," Kelly said. "… Going into their fourth year, they can decide do I stick around and be a backup here, or do I go play down a level and start? "We'd like to keep them all here. It gives you great depth. But as you can see by our roster, a lot of those guys decided to move to other places." One other option to consider: With head trauma injuries in football more in the forefront, top players are more likely to use the finite amount of time they have in football and "cash in" while they can. You never know in college when one devastating injury can put those aspirations into limbo, a la Smith in last year's Fiesta Bowl. Consequently, Kelly is more apt to play freshmen, including a personal record 13 this year. "If we think they can help us in their freshmen year, play them," Kelly said. That doesn't mean he won't hold out hope that some might stick around five years, like freshman of- fensive tackle Liam Eichenberg. "He's a stud," said Kelly. "We're just not going to play him this year. He's a pretty special player." If indeed he is, the likelihood of staying five years at Notre Dame will be remote. ✦ Taking The Fifth Is Becoming A Tougher Option THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Nose guard Jarron Jones is one of only three fifth-year seniors on Notre Dame's 2016 roster, while Oct. 15 opponent Stanford has about a half dozen on its two deep. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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