The look of Notre Dame’s defensive line changed drastically when senior Ishaq Williams was suspended indefinitely for his role in the academic dishonesty case now pending at the university level. The former five-star recruit was expected to start at strongside defensive end, one final chance to live up to the lofty expectations that Williams brought with him to South Bend.
But with his future in doubt, the Irish now turn to youth upon youth at the position, with sophomore Isaac Rochell being backed up by freshman Grant Blankenship.
Assumed to be a key cog up front for Brian VanGorder’s defense, let’s look at what Williams means to the Irish defense.
Here’s more on the Brooklyn native.
6’5.5″ 271 lbs.
Senior, No. 11
Williams’ recruitment went down in Irish lore, when defensive coordinator Bob Diaco intercepted Williams in the early morning hours, talking him into coming to Notre Dame as an early enrollee over Penn State. The five-star recruit had dozens of offers, but in the end he chose the Irish, joining forces with Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt to form a trio of pass rushers that had Irish fans dizzy with anticipation.
Here’s what Brian Kelly had to say about Williams, just weeks after he enrolled for the spring semester.
“A young man that has great versatility, played in the Army All-American game. Just a great young man,” Kelly said. “He’s just so quick. He can obviously do a lot of things for us. He can put his hand down like he is right here… Pretty athletic player that he’s going to be able to redirect and make the play.”
Freshman Season (2011): Made six tackles in 11 games, appearing on special teams and as a reserve outside linebacker.
Sophomore Season (2012): Played in all 13 games for the Irish, making 22 tackles and 3.5 TFLs. Forced the fumble that Stephon Tuitt ran back for a 77-yard touchdown. Made a career-high four tackles against the Midshipmen.
Junior Season (2013): Injuries cost him two games, but saw action in 11 games while making 17 tackles. Notched his first career sack against Michigan. Made three tackles against Michigan State and Stanford.
There’s still plenty of potential here, though the clock is almost done ticking. Williams wasn’t able to play in front of Prince Shembo at cat linebacker the past two seasons, and played behind Darius Fleming as a freshman. That’s not an indictment, but certainly doesn’t help.
A position change to defensive end put less of a burden on Williams, though we won’t know how he takes to the change until — and that’s no given — he’s allowed back on the football field for Notre Dame.
Williams still looks likely to find his way onto an NFL roster, simply because football players to tend to come in the shape and size of Williams too often. But if there’s been a disappointment over the past few years, it’s been Williams inability to work his way onto the field and be a productive defender.
The future is just too murky without some clarity from the university on the academic status of Williams and the Four Coursemen. But if he’s able to play, he’s going to be a huge help along the defensive line, adding another big and strong body to a front that’s in desperate need of help.
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Torii Hunter Jr.