Hounshell set to finish career at Ohio State


With a sixth-year of eligibility, reserve tight end Chase Hounshell is heading to Ohio State. The Cleveland native will spend his final season on the football field in his home state, playing for a head coach who initially recruited him.

Hounshell made the news public via Twitter. He’ll be a walk-on for the Buckeyes, eligible to play thanks to the NCAA granting him an additional medical redshirt, though not taking one of Ohio State’s 85 scholarships.

With one career catch at Notre Dame, a return for a sixth year wasn’t in the cards for Hounshell and the Irish, especially with defensive end Jacob Matuska converting to the position. At Ohio State, Hounshell will hope to take a spot in a depth chart that has an opening at tight end, a situational role on a team who once again looks like the class of the Big Ten.

Before he was a Notre Dame commit, Hounshell was an early target and recruit of Urban Meyer, committing to play defensive end for the then-Florida head coach. But Meyer’s departure from Gainesville led the Irish into the game and Hounshell spent five seasons in South Bend, most marred by various shoulder injuries.

He finished his career in South Bend with six tackles as a reserve defensive end and one catch as a tight end.


Kizer? Zaire? No easy decision coming at QB for Brian Kelly


It’s not going to be easy. Credit Brian Kelly for at least acknowledging that now. Because Notre Dame’s head coach knows he could call the quarterback race tomorrow or the night before the Irish play Texas and it won’t be any easier.

In DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire the Irish have two quarterbacks capable of leading the Irish into the College Football Playoff. And after watching both do different things to stand out on Saturday—just as they had all spring—Kelly acknowledged that he’s going to have to make a difficult decision eventually.

“I think I’m going to have to make a judgment call,” Kelly said. “I don’t know when I’ll make it. But there will be a time when I’m going to have to say, that’s our quarterback, let’s go with him, we’re all in, and let’s move forward.”

Deciding between Kizer and Zaire likely challenges Kelly on a number of levels. On the field, we saw first-hand the contrasting styles the quarterbacks showcased.

Kizer looks more comfortable running the offense.  Zaire looks more comfortable when things break down. Pressure on Zaire felt constant on Saturday—likely a product of putting Zaire up against what basically amounted to the starting front seven. But also factoring in was the fact that the senior is still learning an offense he only has had a chance to pilot for three career starts.

“I thought what I saw was Malik develop more of an understanding of what we did offensively last year,” Kelly said. “The offense developed under Kizer during the year, not Malik. So he was at a bit of a disadvantage coming into the spring, and I thought he caught up…

“Now that he has a better understanding of everything that we’re doing, I think now you’ve got the race and that will obviously be decided through camp.”

In Kizer, Kelly has a quarterback who seems adept at doing all the things he demands from his signal-caller. A strong arm with accuracy. Nimble feet that keep a defense more than honest with his running. And a head that checks all the boxes when it comes to knowing the game, representing his program and leading the team.

“He managed the game very well; confidence, consistency,” Kelly said. “I just think that he continues to show the things that you want a starting quarterback to show.”

Kelly was quick to follow that praise up with the caveat that he wasn’t close to naming Kizer a start. And that’s probably because of his true appreciation for the way Zaire plays football. The confident senior might be the closest thing to a quarterback in Kelly’s image.

That fiery demeanor? The alpha dog with unbridled self-belief? The quarterback who wants to both put his shoulder down and run you over and took every shot given to him to throw the deep ball over the top? That’s DNA the head coach shares with his passionate veteran quarterback.

It’s also what’s going to make this decision so difficult.

“I can’t keep them both happy. Somebody’s going to be unhappy,” Kelly said. “I love them both. They both are committed. They are both great competitors. But somebody’s going to be unhappy.”

Five things we learned: 78th Blue-Gold game


On a beautiful afternoon for football, Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold game went off without a hitch. No turnovers. No broken coverages. More important than either—no major injuries.

All eyes were on quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. And while Kizer’s Blue team pulled out the 17-7 victory, no quarterback’s play on the field—not even under a clear-blue sky high above the still-transforming Notre Dame Stadium—provided clarity to a battle that’ll continue into fall camp.

But plenty of position groups came into focus on Saturday afternoon, with a rebuilt Irish roster featuring new faces that’ll turn into key pieces of the 2016 team. As the offense and defense battled evenly, head coach Brian Kelly was happy that his young team was able to play clean football.

“I think it was a little bit of everything, I think it was good football on both sides of the ball,” Kelly told NBC’s Jac Collinsworth. “Fundamentally sound defensively. Offensively, it was a little bit of everything. Some guys stepping up and making some plays. I was pleased overall coming out here and having a competitive day.”

With Montgomery VanGorder scored the second half’s only touchdown in the game’s closing minutes, he finished the spring on a positive note. Let’s find out what else we learned as Notre Dame caps off a key transitional spring before the 2016 season.


The first-half quarterback showdown revealed the Irish are in good hands either way. 

The afternoon certainly didn’t start the way Malik Zaire wanted it to. Notre Dame’s rising senior quarterback, who is looking to reclaim a starting job he lost just two games into last season when he broke his ankle, missed early and often in his first two drives, both ending in 3-and-outs.

But Zaire turned things around and flashed moments of brilliance—making plays with his feet and with the deep ball, connecting with Torii Hunter on the day’s most impressive play. Zaire also ran for a touchdown, looking healthy and elusive as he capped off the Gold team’s lone scoring drive in a one-man army type effort.

If Zaire’s day featured highs and lows, Kizer’s steady performance underscores his comfort in the system. More surgical with his decisions, Kizer worked through his reads, finding success picking apart the Gold defense with underneath throws.

Kizer also won the mental chess match at the line of scrimmage, a third-down audible exploiting an open middle of the field where Kizer ran for a long conversion. His quick side-armed sling around an unblocked defender turned a sack into a nice completion to Alizé Jones. Maybe his best pass of the afternoon was dropped, a deep ball looped perfectly towards a streaking Kevin Stepherson, with the rookie failing to reel in the big gainer.

Both quarterbacks played the entire first half without a red jersey before turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush in the second half. After the game, Kelly complimented the play of both, while also acknowledging that this battle isn’t ending any time soon.

“It was set up for the quarterbacks and I think they did a nice job,” Kelly said immediately after the game. “But I don’t think anybody separated themselves.”


As new faces emerge, freshmen Kevin Stepherson, Devin Studstill and Shaun Crawford look like major contributors. 

Brian Kelly has been telling everybody who’s been willing to listen that the young players on his roster were ready to make an impact. Saturday afternoon highlighted three of them, with Kevin Stepherson and Devin Studstill (both early-enrollees) along with (redshirt) Shaun Crawford looking the part of ascending players.

Stepherson was Notre Dame’s most active wide receiver, flashing top-end speed and the ability to play anywhere as he led the Blue team with 70 receiving yards. While he dropped a throw that would’ve put his afternoon into triple-digits, he’s clearly put himself into a position to be in the receiver rotation in the fall.

“We have a player on our team in KJ Stepherson that can catch the ball at full speed as he cuts across the field, a very unique trait,” Kelly said. “He still has to work on catching the ball vertically down the field. But he catches the ball out of his break at full speed, and it is a unique trait that he has that I have not seen since I’ve been here at Notre Dame.”

That explosiveness is likely why Stepherson was back catching punts. And even considering the difficulty freshmen wide receivers have had making an impact under Kelly, it looks like the unheralded recruit is positioned to be the most productive freshman wideout that Kelly’s had in his time in South Bend.

On the other side of the ball, Studstill was around the football early and often, proving very quickly that the praise her earned was much more than a motivational tactic for Max Redfield. Studstill ran the alley and made a nice stop on Zaire, limiting the quarterback to a short gain. He also looked at home in coverage, playing like a seasoned veteran, not a freshman who should be finding a prom date in a few weeks.

Put Kelly among those who wondered if Shaun Crawford knew what his green jersey signified (limited contact). It’s clear that a healthy Crawford has the ability to make the defense so much better with him on the football field. The Ohio native seems to just find the football. He was active in coverage, strong in run support, quick to diagnose every play he saw develop.

Crawford came off the edge with a blitz that ruined a play and played man coverage as an outside cornerback, too. With Nick Watkins out and Crawford still in the recovery phase after his August ACL tear, it’s clear the Irish have a playmaking cornerback on their hands. What’s surprising is that he looked like one of the most confident players on the field even before he’s made his collegiate debut.


Torii Hunter is standing out as the No. 1 weapon in the rebuilt receiving corps. 

Streaking deep with Nick Coleman in good position to defend him, Torii Hunter made the game’s best catch—snatching Zaire’s perfectly-thrown deep ball with one hand and bringing it in. The 50-yarder was one of three catches Hunter made as Zaire’s favorite target, a nice step forward for the rising senior as he ascends to the No. 1 wide receiver job.

Hunter’s evolution as a receiver has been one of the spring’s most important developments. Long viewed as one of the team’s best practice players, injuries have hampered through two of his seasons in South Bend before finally getting through 2015 healthy.

But Hunter has been unwilling to let anything get in the way of his ascent. Kelly credited those efforts after the Blue-Gold game, talking about the work ethic the rising senior has displayed.

“I think he’s had a terrific spring,” Kelly said. “The work volume that he’s put in while he’s going to school, while he’s playing baseball, has been an incredible commitment.

“It’s amazing what he does in terms of the intensity in which he practices and how hard he goes, and then he does the same thing for [baseball coach Mik Aoki]. He’s a unique young man in that he can focus and give that kind of intensity to both sports”

Hunter’s move to the front lines will be counted on in 2016, especially if Corey Robinson‘s return to the football field isn’t clear. But identified as one of the team’s most improved players this spring by Kelly on Friday, Hunter is poised for a big season.


Even with massive turnover, improved defensive fundamentals had to have Irish fans happy. 

Nobody is ready to anoint the Irish defense after it got the better of the offense in the spring game. But any worry that there’d be offensive fireworks and big plays coming fast and furious were erased by a rock-solid performance in the first half.

The Blue front seven made things difficult for Zaire from the game’s first snap. Neither Josh Adams or Dexter Williams get loose. While Drue Tranquill drew a “panic P.I.” on a deep pattern by Chris Finke and Hunter caught a 50-yarder, Kelly praised the competitiveness of his rebuilt secondary.

“I’m very pleased is the progress of some of the young players in the back end of our defense,” Kelly said. “I thought our corner play was better. I thought our safety play was much improved and those are the areas we need better play at, and I thought that those young players out there today made significant progress.”

Spotting Jay Hayes wreaking havoc from his new defensive end spot had to make Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore happy. Watching young linebackers Asmar Bilal and Josh Barajas continue to learn on the field had to be promising as well. With Avery Sebastian making his presence felt and Jarron Jones flashing early, Kelly didn’t sound like a guy wishing something to be true in his postgame comments when he set a lofty goal for his rebuilt unit.

“I think that this defense is going to play the kind of defense necessary for us to get into that playoff hunt again,” Kelly said. “There are good enough players out there for us to do that once again.”


On a roster filled with new players, the progress is still apparent. 

There were no cameos with defensive linemen in the backfield or screen passes thrown to linemen. The quarterback battle didn’t feature a flea flicker or forced friendship to finish the day on a high note.

Saturday was a work day for the Irish—Brian Kelly made sure of that. And his young football team rewarded him with a solid day at the office, finishing spring like a team intent on taking advantage of every opportunity to get better that the NCAA allows them.

With 14 starters gone and the majority of those heading to the professional ranks, prevailing wisdom would allow for a step back as the roster rebuilds. But with young talent unwilling to wait to get on the field and veterans more than eager to breakthrough, this football team—for one day, at least—didn’t look like a group that expected to be anything less than a contender for a college football playoff spot.

The play was crisp. The competition was even. And as Kelly continues to look for leaders to step forward, he’ll do so from a framework where the program runs smoothly.

“It’s a pretty sound group. They are not a group that gets too far outside of the blueprint,” Kelly said.

The team now transfers into the players’ hands. Replacing five captains is no small task and the months of offseason training is when Kelly believes this team’s identity will be formed.

“We need to get the heck out of the way, in a sense, and allow those guys to step up and be leaders within their units,” Kelly explained. “That naturally happens when the coaches get out of the way.”

One of the benefits that comes with a rebuilt roster is the anonymity it allows. For the first time in a long time, the Irish will be able to do something they’re fairly unaccustomed to doing: Sneak up on people.

So while there’s certainly the possibility that the Irish can’t overcome the considerable personnel losses they faced, there’s no better time to project a rosy future than when it’s 70-and-sunny in South Bend.

Weather aside, there’s reason for optimism.  At the game’s most important position, the Irish have an embarrassment of riches. Notre Dame can win with Zaire or Kizer, and probably with Brandon Wimbush as well.

Defensively, the Blue-Gold game was a nice data point in the evolution of a unit with a spotlight on it. For as much heat as VanGorder has taken for his scheme and his unit’s maddening inconsistency, one area he rarely receives credit is for his ability to make big adjustments in the offseason.

We watched the 2015 team do masterful work against the option after looking lost a year before. When teams used tempo to take the Irish out of their game plan in VanGorder’s debut season, they were unable to do so last year. With comprehension and player recognition the singular goal of the offseason, it isn’t too big of a leap to think that Year Three could yield improved results, even after rebuilding its core.

For now, those are questions—not to mention the quarterback battle—are deferred to the fall. Until then, Irish fans can be happy with the progress displayed on a perfect football Saturday.

87th Blue-Gold game primer


Most Notre Dame spring game’s turn Blue-Gold weekend into a football celebration. A guaranteed Irish victory brings a friendly feel to an intrasquad scrimmage that most times lacks any significant stake.

Brian Kelly isn’t treating the 87th edition like that. With a quarterback battle underway and a roster filled with unproven talent, Kelly challenged his team to treat a beautiful spring Saturday on campus just like those in the fall.

“Look, we’ve got a lot of guys who are going to step into some roles that they haven’t been in before,” Kelly explained. “I want them to treat this like a game situation. This is not just a glorified scrimmage to them, they better be focused and locked in and I want their demeanor to be such that they’re getting ready to compete in a game.”

To get you ready for kickoff at 12:30 p.m. ET (watch live on NBCSN or STREAM IT ONLINE HERE) here’s a quick primer on the rules, rosters and a few things to keep your eye on this Saturday.


First half is two 12-minute quarters. Second half is two 15-minute running time quarters. No play clock, 15-minute halftime. No overtime.


Quarterbacks in red jersey aren’t live. Position players in green jersey are no contact. No kickoffs, all punts fair caught. No blocking kicks or faking attempts.

Each possession starts at the 30-yard line. Traditional scoring rules. No ties. Super Bowl Champions and former Notre Dame stars Ryan Harris and David Bruton will serve as captains.



QB DeShone Kizer
RB Tarean Folston
RB Dexter Williams
WR Corey Holmes
WR Equanimeous St. Brown
C Sam Mustipher
LB Nyles Morgan
LB Asmar Bilal
S Devin Studstill
CB Shaun Crawford
S Drue Tranquill
CB Nick Coleman
DL Jay Hayes
DL Isaac Rochell
DL Jarron Jones
DL Jerry Tillery


QB Malik Zaire
WR Torii Hunter
RB Josh Adams
TE Durham Smythe
LT Mike McGlinchey
LG Quenton Nelson
S Max Redfield
LB James Onwualu
CB Cole Luke


S Avery Sebastian
TE Alizé Jones
QB Brandon Wimbush
RB Justin Brent
CB Devin Butler
DE Khalid Kareem
OL Tristen Hoge
OL Hunter Bivin
DE Andrew Trumbetti



Defensive end Grant Blankenship has been suspended from the program for an undisclosed violation of team rules. His return to the team is unclear, though Kelly said he’ll meet with junior in the near future to decide on a course of action.

“I will meet with him after the spring game and we’ll decide what the course is from there on out,” Kelly said.


Wide receiver Corey Robinson was spotted at practice on Friday though not in pads. Kelly talked about Robinson’s recent meeting with a head injury specialist in Michigan who consulted with Robinson and his family about his future career in football after suffering a third concussion at Notre Dame.

“He came back feeling really good about the meeting and I think a decision will be forthcoming relative to what his future is,” Kelly said.

Kelly expects the student body president to make a decision on his future on field within the coming weeks.





Blue-Gold weekend kicks off with Isaiah Robertson commitment

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Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold weekend got off to a good start with the commitment of Illinois prospect Isaiah Robertson. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Naperville became commitment number 10 for the 2017 recruiting class, a group that’s exponentially grown this spring.

Robertson is on campus this weekend for the spring game and made things official via social media:

A consensus, 4-star, top-200 prospect, Robertson is one of the top players in the Chicagoland area and has offers from a majority of the Big Ten, though not from the conference’s elite. But as a big-bodied athlete who can play on either side of the ball, the Irish staff felt good enough about their projections for his future and offered him earlier this month and very quickly Robertson awarded their faith with a commitment.

He spoke to’s Andrew Ivins about the decision:

“I have a good opportunity in front of me,” Robertson said two weeks ago when he landed an offer from the Irish during an unofficial visit.

“When I say opportunity I’m not even talking about football,” he added. “[I’m] mainly talking about academics, character building, connections, and just the kind of man I would be when my 4 years are up at Notre Dame.”

In many ways, Robertson feels like a James Onwualu-type prospect. As a high school prospect, Onwualu was a better football player than he was a positional player, and the Irish reaped the benefits of an early offer by watching him finding role in the starting lineup on both sides of the ball.

Robertson projects as a safety at the next level, with length and athleticism that’ll certainly play in the Irish’s rebuilt secondary. He’s starred as a prep receiver and safety as an 8A All-State performer, with the current thought being get him on campus as a skill recruit and go from there.

Notre Dame’s staff took to the net to make the commitment official, with recruiting coordinator Mike Elston weighing in and head coach Brian Kelly sending out the celebratory hashtag.

Robertson will join a number of fellow commitments on campus this weekend as the Irish continue to build out a 2017 recruiting class that’s currently viewed as one of the nation’s best.