Jul 29, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Say this for Nyles Morgan: He’s not one to shy away from expectations.
When the freshman linebacker takes the field when training camp opens next week at Culver Military Academy, he’ll be wearing No. 5, last seen on Notre Dame’s most decorated defender ever.
Like Manti Te’o, Morgan walks into a program desperate for him to play to his reputation. The Chicago native was an elite recruit that the Irish coaching staff fought hard for. He’ll likely open with a spot in the two-deep, with the chance to fight for a role in the rotation at a middle linebacker position that’s filled with question marks.
Let’s take a closer look at freshman Nyles Morgan.
6’2″ 223 lbs.
Freshman, No. 5
Morgan was an elite recruit, a U.S. Army All-American, a first-team USA Today All-American, and a first-team All-State player on the Chicago Tribune’s team. A Top 100 prospect by just about every measure, Morgan chose Notre Dame after a long recruitment that had the Irish trailing for most of the time.
In the end, Morgan chose Notre Dame over an offer list that includes some of the best programs in the country: Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, USC and others. He took official visits to Ole Miss and Florida and one to Notre Dame in October, before eventually committed to the Irish at the Army Bowl.
With Bob Diaco gone to UConn and area recruiter Chuck Martin taking the Miami job, Brian Kelly took over Morgan’s recruitment, with the Irish head coach closing the deal with the help of new coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Kelly talked about his prized recruit on Signing Day.
“One thing that stands out about Nyles is his thirst for knowledge of the game. Every time I’m with him, he just wants to talk about football,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “Just got a great nose for the football, plays downhill, plays fast, great instincts, and when he arrives, he arrives with a bad attitude when he gets to the football. He’s just that kind of player. Very, very talented. You know, I think from our standpoint, an inside guy that certainly has the physical tools to be an exceptional player here at Notre Dame.”
Put Morgan in the “Sky’s the limit” category. While most of us have only seen YouTube footage of his on-field exploits, Morgan more than held his own at the Army game, and early reports have him arriving this summer in excellent physical shape and ready to compete immediately.
If there’s an early prototype for VanGorder’s Mike linebacker, Morgan is the closest thing that we’ve seen. While that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he’ll be a star player for the Irish, Notre Dame’s staff firmly believes they have a potential great one in the Chicagoland product, and Morgan was one of the essential “must-gets” of the 2014 recruiting cycle.
Fast, athletic and mean, Morgan has everything you want from a blue-chip recruit. Now he’s got to play to that star-rating, sometimes easier said than done.
Morgan couldn’t ask for a better situation to walk into. With a new defensive system in place and a hole in the depth chart, the freshman will see the field from day one and will likely contribute from the middle of the defense come the season-opener against Rice. Getting early snaps can only help him, as Morgan will undoubtedly look like a freshman at times, seeing and doing things for the first time at this level.
It’s hard to remember now, but even Te’o ran around lost as a freshman, with then defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta begrudgingly throwing Te’o to the wolves as the 2009 season rolled on. VanGorder’s system stresses aggression and attacking, something that’ll likely make Morgan’s job easier. But only if he’s able to mentally handle the transition, a challenge that Irish fans should be optimistic about, especially after re-reading Kelly’s Signing Day comments.
Ultimately, Morgan’s going to play. How much and how well remains to be seen. But on the hoof, there’s probably not a more impressive linebacker on the roster than Morgan, who certainly doesn’t look like your average freshman.
For Notre Dame’s defense to succeed, he can’t play like one, either.
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