Romeo Okwara

The Commitments: Front seven


Part five of our series recapping the recruits ready to sign letters-of-intent with Notre Dame next Wednesday. (Or already on campus.) Previous installments include the running backsoffensive linewide receivers and quarterbacks

At his first signing day press conference, Brian Kelly all but announced his intent to rebuild the front seven of the defense via recruiting. Little did people know he planned on doing it in his first full recruiting class.

After watching the Irish swing and miss at defensive line targets for the better part of a decade, Kelly did all but the impossible: target, recruit, and land some of the most impressive front seven talent in the country. After years of missing players like Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas, Notre Dame went and landed all of them, bringing in a total of nine players that would immediately plug into the front seven defensive depth chart, transforming a roster in one recruiting cycle.

One year later, with a two deep spilling over along the defensive line and linebackers, the Irish welcome back Manti Te’o to the linebacking corps and Kapron Lewis-Moore to the defensive line. After dying to find defensive tackles comparable to Sean Cwynar, Kelly and his defensive staff were able to say farewell to the double domer poised for business success without worrying about the depth chart behind him.

The Irish didn’t land every target they had in the front seven, missing on two-way athlete Arik Armstead, who committed to Oregon Sunday afternoon after a whirlwind recruitment that saw the blue-chip prospect almost end up at a half dozen different schools. But Notre Dame’s chances to land Armstead dramatically decreased when the Irish couldn’t accept his older brother Armond, a USC transfer immediately eligible to play next season. Multiple sources have told me the elder Armstead wasn’t cleared to participate in football activities for the Irish, the same verdict the USC team doctors reached as well.

We can only wonder what the Irish defense would’ve looked like with those two additions, but the future is still incredibly bright for a unit that’ll likely be the strength of the roster for the next two seasons. Let’s see who the Irish plan on welcoming into the fold this Wednesday:

High School: Warren Central — Indianapolis, Indiana
Measureables: Six-foot-two, 286-pounds
Other major offers: Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Michigan, North Carolina, Penn State, Stanford
Fun Fact: Finished second to fellow Irish early-enrollee Gunner Kiel for Indiana’s Mr. Football.
On choosing Notre Dame: “I’m excited to get here and get started on my classwork and to start the conditioning program with Coach Longo. I really liked meeting the guys during my recruiting process and I’m excited to start workouts with them this winter.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: Any other year, Sheldon Day is the recruit Irish fans are hysterical over. Rarely do the Irish beat out defensive linemen that have options like LSU, Penn State, Florida and Michigan, but Day had a relatively drama-free early enrollment and brings another building block to the defensive line. While he’s projected to be a defensive tackle by most recruiting services, Day might have the versatility to allow him to play along the edge of the defensive line, as a more athletic, but slightly smaller Ethan Johnson. An incredibly productive player at Indianapolis powerhouse Warren Central, Day is an excellent athlete that also happens to play defensive line.

High School: Aquinas Institute — Rochester, New York
Measureables: Six-foot-seven, 307-pounds
Other major offers: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State
Fun Fact: Named first-team All-State, Jones’ 5-foot-7 teammate, running back Billy Lombardi, was named state player of the year.
On choosing Notre Dame: “It’s perfect for me,” Jones told Irish Illustrated. “Notre Dame is just like my high school, it’s not even a big transition. The small class sizes, just typical high school to college. It’s not going to be an adjustment in atmosphere and it’s going to be something that I’m already used to.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: Jones is another one of those mold-busting recruits that have been attracted to Brian Kelly’s program, joining guys like Tuitt and Niklas as super-sized recruits. Jones might not be as physically ready to dominate as the two previously mentioned, but he won’t need to be. Ultra athletic, Jones could just as easily be a left tackle of the future, but he’ll get his first shot as a jumbo 3-4 defensive end. Another one of those recruits Notre Dame never seemed to land, Jones was initially committed to Penn State before the Irish staff flipped him in August.

High School: Ardrey Kell — Charlotte, North Carolina
Measureables: Six-foot-five, 235-pounds
Other major offers: Clemson, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State, Pitt, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Fun Fact: Won’t turn 17-years-old until June 2012, making those 14 sacks and 27 TFLs look mighty impressive.
On choosing Notre Dame:  “Coach Kelly and I have a good relationship and getting on campus for a full weekend made me surer that Notre Dame is the perfect place for me,” Okwara told Blue & Gold. “The people were very welcoming and the basketball game was really fun. It showed me that Notre Dame takes pride in all of their sports which is really good.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: At the very least, Okwara is bringing a whole lot of bottled promise to South Bend. With the rare blend of size, speed, and power, the fact that Okwara was able to dominate high school football while playing his senior season at the age of 16 is a pretty impressive feat. Graduating from the same school that brought Notre Dame Prince Shembo, Okwara is an intriguing Cat linebacker prospect with his obvious pass rushing skills, though has the athleticism and speed to also play in space during the passing game. For Okwara’s sake, you almost have to hope he’s redshirted, so he gets a chance to play with kids his own age.

Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Keenan Reynolds, Justin Utopo, Cole Luke

Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame and Navy will do battle for the 89th straight season. But if you’re not in South Bend, or can’t park in front of a computer, we’ve got you covered.

NBC’s coverage of the Irish and Midshipmen features a pregame show on NBCSN and a postgame recap to follow. You can always watch on the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Here’s how to watch Navy vs. Notre Dame:

3:00 p.m. — Pregame Show (NBCSN)
3:30 p.m.  — Navy vs. Notre Dame (NBC)
7:00 p.m.  — Postgame Show (NBCSN)


With an HD feed, DVR capabilities and a bonus camera, logging in and watching from your tablet or mobile phone makes it easier than ever to catch Notre Dame on NBC.

Pregame Six Pack: Anchors await


Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Jazz Singer ended the silent film era. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And Notre Dame played Navy in football for the first time.

The Irish won that contest 19-6, and the two teams have played every year since then. So much has changed since that first game, yet the longest running intersectional rivalry is still rolling on, stronger now than maybe ever.

While the Irish’s four game winning streak has extended their already lopsided series lead (Notre Dame holds a 74-12-1 edge), the ledger is hardly what makes the game special. An annual David & Goliath matchup, both schools remain committed the game, part of the unique bond that exists between the two institutions.

So much of this week has been made about the mutual respect between the two programs. A 30-minute documentary aired earlier this week. Both teams will share part of their uniform—as will the coaches on the sidelines—a tip of their cap to the shared history (and nifty corporate synergy) between respected opponents once again doing battle.

But make no mistake: All the respect talk this week doesn’t make this a friendly Saturday.

There is no love lost between the Irish and the Midshipmen on the field.  So while both teams may honor the other by standing during their respective alma mater, this is a game that each team desperately wants to win.

After a rain-soaked weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a dry Saturday in South Bend. So let’s put away the rain panchos and get to the Pregame Six Pack.


After watching the Georgia Tech game from the sideline, Max Redfield steps back into the starting lineup. 

Drue Tranquill begins his recovery from ACL surgery today, as fearless as ever. And while Matthias Farley has shown some playmaking ability against option attacks, Brian Kelly confirmed that Max Redfield would stay in the starting lineup against Navy.

Redfield is coming off his most productive game as a college football player, making 14 tackles—including 11 solo stops—against Clemson. Now Redfield will step into the one-high safety role, while Elijah Shumate will take over for Tranquill in the box.

“He plays the role that Shu played. Shu played the role that Tranquill played,” Kelly said.

That means it’ll be Shumate running the alley and handling the pitch man. And Redfield will be asked to serve both as the last line of defense and also make a difference in the option game as well.

Just about everybody who watched Redfield last week saw a different player than the one who was largely ineffective against Virginia as he tried to play through a broken thumb. And Kelly talked Thursday evening a little bit about the journey Redfield has taken to get there.

“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” Kelly said. “He’s somebody that I think is looking at football through a different lens and understands that there are so many details to it… He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just maturing and developing at a pace that’s comfortable to him.”


DeShone Kizer did more than just survive at Clemson. Can his silver-lining performance trigger a more explosive offense?

With the game on the line and Hurricane Joaquin creating a relentless rain storm, nobody would’ve thought putting the game on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer would be Notre Dame’s best chance to win. Yet that’s what Brian Kelly did, and Kizer very nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Navy doesn’t play defense like Clemson. While the Midshipmen’s defense is vastly improved (they rank just one spot behind Notre Dame in total defense heading into Saturday’s contest), they’ll be in a physical mismatch for most of the day, relying on turnovers and stops to limit the Irish offense.

But after serving as the unexpected engine of Notre Dame’s comeback last Saturday, Kizer looks capable of doing more than just game managing, especially for an offense that’s averaged seven touchdowns a game against Navy the past four years.

“I just think when you get opportunities to play on the road, leading your team back in the fourth quarter, you gain more of an understanding of a quarterback who’s got to make plays,” Kelly said. “I think we knew he was the guy that could handle the moment, he certainly was able to do that… I think it just added on to the fact that we’ve got a quarterback that can help us win a championship.”


For as challenging as slowing down Navy’s option is every year, Notre Dame fans sometimes forget that Navy’s got to find a way to stop the Irish, too. 

As mentioned just before, Notre Dame is scoring 48.25 points against Navy during their four-game winning steak. And one of the biggest challenges that Navy faces is Brian Kelly the playcaller.

Earlier this week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo talked about what makes Kelly’s offense so good and why Notre Dame’s head coach is so difficult to stop.

“Coach Kelly, I’ve always admired the way he calls plays. Some play-callers bury their face in their call sheet, but he’s watching the game,” Niumatalolo said. “But if he sees something, he’s going to exploit it. He’s got a great feel for the game. We’ve got to be able to adjust. We’ve got some ideas of what we can do, but he’s going to adjust very quickly to us and we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Expect Kelly to try and get the ground game back rolling again after a difficult weekend at Clemson. And with veteran safety Kwazel Betrand likely lost for the year with after suffering a broken ankle against Air Force, the back end will be tested as well.

It’s a challenge at every level for Navy. And with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford keeping the offense moving, it’ll stress the Midshipmen like no other game on their schedule.


Even with one loss, Kelly still thinks Notre Dame controls their own destiny. 

Earlier this week, Brian Kelly hopped on SiriusXM radio with Stephen A. Smith. And while on Tuesday Kelly said he wasn’t sure if a one-loss team could get into the College Football Playoff, he sounded more confident that the Irish still controlled their own destiny when he was talking to Smith.

“After you lose, you’re going to take that bump. That’s really part of it,” Kelly said, sounding unworried about the slide to No. 15. “I think we have a really good football team. We did not play up to the level we’re capable of and you should fall considerably because of it.”

But Kelly thinks the Irish have a schedule in front of them that can allow them to step back into the race. And while it’s still way, way, way too soon to be wondering if the Irish have the schedule needed to qualify without a conference title game, Kelly seemed to think winning out would solve all of those problems. (Even with USC’s Thursday night loss to Washington.)

“The great part of it is that we’ve got a schedule in front of us that’ll allow us to control our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If we continue to play better football and we’re a better football team in November than we are right now, we’ve got a chance to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”



For Notre Dame to win, they need to slow down Navy’s option specialist, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Justin Thomas may have gotten all the preseason attention from Irish fans. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the more dangerous of the option trigger-men. The senior quarterback and leader of the Midshipmen will finish his college career as one of the most prolific players in college football history.

Reynolds has already scored nine touchdowns this season and his 73 career rushing touchdowns tied for second most in college football history, only four behind Montee Ball‘s record. At 25-11, his 25 wins as a starter are the most in Navy history, third most among active NCAA players.

Reynolds saw his first action as a freshman in 2012, thrown into action in Dublin after starting quarterback Trey Miller went down. Looking for his first victory against the Irish, Reynolds cherishes the opportunity to come to South Bend and fight for one.

“I’m excited. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a very, very good team. It’s the best team we’re going to see, they’re a Top 10 team in the country, even with a loss.”


This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best Navy team. And he knows it needs to play perfect to beat Notre Dame. 

During this week’s Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect documentary, we saw the large photo that hangs on the office wall of Ken Niumatalolo—the chaos and happiness of Midshipmen celebrating after they shocked Notre Dame in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak.

While Niumatalolo was just the offensive line coach at the time, he acknowledged just how important that victory was to his program.

“For us it was a great accomplishment. I have [the picture] up there because they’re hard to beat and it doesn’t come too often, so we had to relish that one time we beat them in 2007,” Niumatalolo said in the documentary. “A big part of that picture just shows the jubilation of years trying to get over the hump.”

If there was ever a Navy team that’s well positioned to make a shocking statement at Notre Dame Stadium again, it might be this team. Outside of sophomore right tackle Robert Lindsey and sophomore linebacker D.J. Palmore, every starter on Navy is an upperclassman.

The offensive line doesn’t have a man smaller than 275 pounds, a much larger unit than you’re used to from Navy’s standards. The entire backfield is seniors, led by Reynolds but tag-teamed with fullback Chris Swain and slotbacks Desmond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders.

Even with Reynolds and a veteran group of talent, this group knows it can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially in the turnover column.

“It’s priority each and every week. But especially this week,” Reynolds said. “We can’t give them any [turnovers]. They’re very very good on offense, we can’t put our defense in a bind by giving them a short field. We understand the importance of ball security this week and having zero turnovers.”

Defensively, Dale Pehrson has taken over for Buddy Green as defensive coordinator while Green recovers from offseason surgery. With a veteran front seven and some talent on the back end, this isn’t a hapless defense just hoping to capitalize on an Irish mistake, but rather a defense that Kelly said is befitting of a Top 25 team.

Still, it’ll take more than just Niumatalolo’s best team to beat Notre Dame—they’ll need the Irish to falter. But in the midst of a four-game losing streak against the Irish, expect Navy to empty their arsenal to do anything to get a win.

“We’ve had a hard time making the plays,” Niumatalolo said about the last four years. But this is our best defense that we’ve had. We’ll go in there and take a shot at them. They’re really good. Always have been.”