Hegarty

Hegarty ready to watch and learn during freshman season

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I’ve been pretty open about Notre Dame’s need to embrace redshirts. Whether they continue to ignore the term, a fifth-year of college football is an incredibly important opportunity for not just linemen, but also skill position players as well. (If you don’t believe me, consider Harrison Smith’s transformation from defensive liability to team captain and All-American contender.)

Last year, I took a look at how Charlie Weis’ inability to properly use redshirts cost the football program. This isn’t all on Weis, he was playing the hand that he was dealt, but his decision to go very young in 2007 to try and develop depth on the field ended up costing him dearly as his tenure went on.

Incoming freshman Matt Hegarty’s hometown newspaper, The Farmington Daily Times, had an in-depth article on Hegarty as he begins final preparations and leaves home in New Mexico on his way to South Bend. It was a great look at some of the things we forget about big-time college student-athletes, mainly that they are just like the rest of us as we embark on that uncertain journey to college and life away from home.

“This opportunity is very exciting. At the same time, I have a lot of people here that are dear to me that I will miss and everything,” Hegarty said. “A melancholy feeling set in when (Aztec Coach Brad) Hirsch started the spring workouts and the messages on the whiteboard didn’t exactly pertain to me anymore. Things like that, it is just weird. I know kind of looking at the schedule it is not going to leave me a lot of time off to come home, so it is kind of a different feeling knowing that the next time I come around to Aztec I will be kind of a stranger.

“I’m going to miss it, but at the same time the Aztec program and the Brotherhood was great to me, and I enjoyed my time,” Hegarty said. “It has been kind of hard for me, though. A lot of what I have been thinking is just about the things I will be missing. I spoke with a friend the other day and she was stressing to me to focus more on the things to be excited for, and I think that is really a part of it. There is a lot out there and I really just want to soak it all in and try to enjoy it. I am excited to see where it goes because it is all going to be kind of unknown for me.”

When you consider a goliath 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman who immediately bolsters depth along the Irish offensive line, you forget to consider that he’s also dealing with the challenges that come with attending school 1,500 miles away. And while Hegarty’s recruiting profile and experience playing in a spread offense makes him a likely candidate to be in the running for early playing time, the Irish’s depth along the offensive line, not to mention Brian Kelly’s experience on the collegiate sidelines, makes the decision to redshirt a promising athlete like Hegarty all the more wise.

“They have a pretty good rotation going on right now with lineman, so there won’t be a real high demand for me to play right away, which I really appreciate getting the extra year of schooling,” he said. “Coach Brian Kelly brings a lot of great concepts I am used to here, and this next year I really just want to adjust to the game’s speed and tempo. It will be a lot easier for me, I think, staying in a spread instead of coming from a triple option or something.”

The strength and conditioning coaches finally get their hands on Hegarty and the rest of the incoming freshman, as summer semester and unofficial workouts are set to begin soon. While some freshman (more on this later) are expected to challenge to see the field soon, Hegarty and fellow linemen Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin and Troy Niklas will likely spend the season on the scout team.

Exactly where they should be.

 

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”