Jul 15, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
Entering his senior season, Chase Hounshell‘s career has been defined by what’s kept him off the field, not his performance on it. While the Ohio native was one of the earliest freshmen contributors along a defensive line filled with much more heralded prospects, multiple shoulder injuries have rendered his next two seasons obsolete, forcing Hounshell to look retirement in the eyes before getting up and going back to rehab.
That decision looks to have finally paid dividends, as Hounshell made it through spring practice healthy and looks to take on a very important reserve role at defensive tackle behind Sheldon Day. What the Irish will get out of the Ohio native is a huge question mark, though it’s clear that Hounshell’s effort and determination won’t be.
Let’s take a closer look at the star-crossed senior defensive lineman.
6’4.5″ 271 lbs.
Senior, No. 50
Hounshell was an early Florida commitment, pledging to Urban Meyer, a rarity for an Ohio-based defensive lineman going down to the SEC. But that says something about Hounshell’s high school production, and the two-way prep lineman was one of the state’s top players.
But after Meyer “retired,” Hounshell took an official visit to Notre Dame. Not long after, he committed to the Irish, spurning Will Muschamp’s new staff, along with offers from Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin and others.
Here’s what Brian Kelly had to say about Hounshell on Signing Day.
“He’s somebody that gives us, again, great versatility, great motor. Continues to play right to the whistle. And, again, you can’t have enough of these kinds of profile players,” Kelly said, seeing Hounshell as a perfect fit at 3-4 defensive end. “He’s a very tough and aggressive kid. He takes great care of himself. He’s physically in great shape. Loves to work out. Nutrition is key to him. He just has all those components that we’re looking for in our defensive linemen. Very conscious of his body and taking care of himself and plays the game from sideline to sideline and never takes a play off.”
Freshman Season (2011): After injuries to veterans Sean Cwynar and Ethan Johnson, Hounshell played in seven games down the stretch for the Irish. All four of his tackles came against Air Force. Originally tore his labrum against Navy, playing out the season injured before offseason surgery.
Sophomore Season (2012): Played in the season opener against Navy, but re-injured his shoulder. Did not play the rest of the season.
Junior Season (2013): Re-injured his right shoulder during spring drills, missed the entire season after labrum and shoulder reconstruction. Began practicing with the team near the end of the season, but was held out to compete in the spring.
Any “potential” was likely flushed down the toilet as his shoulder injuries began to pile up. At this point Hounshell is a hardened veteran, with his ability to contribute likely tied to his ability to get complete health out of a shoulder that’s been surgically repaired multiple times.
It’s hard not to feel bad for a kid that’s suffered as much as Hounshell has during his short time at Notre Dame, with one Tweet from Hounshell encapsulating his career in South Bend.
Even if Hounshell isn’t the player that Notre Dame recruited, he’s walking into a depth chart that’s actually set up for his success. He and Tony Springmann are coming off of significant injuries, but they’re also veterans equipped to help this team immediately.
Hounshell isn’t a perfect fit at defensive tackle. He’ll need to use speed, athleticism and a high motor to battle through the physical limitations that come with playing probably 20 pounds lighter than the ideal. But if he’s able to trust his body and find a niche, he’s capable of contributing to an Irish defense that’s in need of interior linemen.
At this point, anything the Irish get out of Hounshell should be considered a bonus. Every live rep he takes will give Sheldon Day a much needed breather and help the Irish play with some mature bodies at the point of attack. Hounshell’s reputation as a workout warrior will be of great help — and if he’s able to find a spot in the Irish rotation, it’ll be music to the ears of Kelly, Brian VanGorder and line coach Mike Elston.
Still, it’s hard not to wonder how his shoulder will hold up in the trenches. His last surgery required more than just a simple labrum repair, and shoulder reconstruction had both Kelly and Hounshell wondering if it was time to retire from the game. He didn’t, and it’s allowed him to come into his senior season and be ready to contribute. But until he proves he can make it through a season, it’s hard not to see it as a ticking bomb.
Hounshell is the type of player you should root for. Even if he’s unable to produce at the highest of levels, getting him back on the field and healthy is only fair after spending the past two years watching.
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