Ishaq Williams

Matthias Farley

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts


Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.


Williams gets his long-awaited NFL audition

USC v Notre Dame

Ishaq Williams found himself in an unfamiliar place these past few days. After a two-year hiatus, he was back on a football field.

The one-time 5-star recruit had his chance to breathe life into his football career this week, down in Texas participating in the College Gridiron Showcase. It’s the first time Williams will have played in a competitive football game since the Pinstripe Bowl, the last two seasons ruined by the academic dishonesty probe that froze the football careers of five Irish players.

Williams spoke with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen to talk about the opportunity to audition for potential employers. He also discussed the road he’s traveled the last two years, finding his way back to Notre Dame and on track to earn his degree in May.

“I’m a totally different person,” Williams told Hansen. “I’m positive, hard-working, have a passion for stuff. This situation has changed my life for the better.”

Do yourself a favor and read the entire article. It’s a testament to the work Williams put in to even give himself this chance.

Williams’ football career essentially ended in August of 2014, when Notre Dame pulled he and four of his teammates from participation while the university worked through an investigation into improper academic activity. The drawn-out results of that investigation led to a two-semester ban from school for Williams, KeiVarae Russell, Kendall Moore and Davis Daniels. Only Russell returned to Notre Dame to play football in 2015.

Williams was free to return to the university after the suspension. His eligibility was a different story. Details remain murky to this day, but Williams’ appeal to play in 2015 was denied by the NCAA, who also ruled that Williams couldn’t even participate as a scout team player.

While he could lift weights in the Gug and spent time with his former teammates in the locker room, he needed to find a way to prepare for his potential football future. That led Williams to former Irish quarterback Evan Sharpley, who spent the fall semester working with him at Sharpley’s training facility in Elkhart.

The work paid off. Williams has slimmed down, now carrying around 260 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. He’s also cleared his head of any negativity that could carryover from the entire incident—two seasons of football lost for an academic mistake.

“I watched every Notre Dame football game this year, but never at the stadium, always from home,” he said. “Those guys welcomed me into the locker room, welcomed me to work out at the Gug (ND’s football facility). They never gave up on me. So how could I give up on myself?

Williams, a philosophy major, is familiar with the famous quote “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.”

But it’s no longer about justifying that old five-star recruiting tag. It’s about new beginnings, wherever they take him.

“I can’t put into words what it’s like to have this chance to overcome,” Williams said. “It means everything to me. There are so many people to thank, however and wherever it ends.”

Williams will be back at Notre Dame this spring, when he’ll audition for scouts at the Irish Pro Day. There’s no question his size and athleticism will draw some interest from a league where teams covet untapped potential.

Credit goes to Williams for doing his best to get back on track.


Williams loses NCAA appeal, college career over

USC v Notre Dame

Ishaq Williams’ college football career is over. Notre Dame’s exiled defensive end, who sat out last season as part of a two-semester suspension for his role in the “frozen five” academic dishonesty investigation, has lost his NCAA appeal for reinstatement. Brian Kelly shared the news on Thursday after practice

Williams will remain on campus and is on track to earn his degree from Notre Dame. But the NCAA will not allow Williams to practice with the team, though he’ll keep his locker and be allowed to use the team’s workout facilities. He has professional aspirations, and the former five-star recruit will likely get a shot to catch on with an NFL team.

“The silver lining here is he is in school and we’re very optimistic that he’ll be able to finish his degree here in the short term,” Kelly said, per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago.

Kelly remained hopeful throughout the appeals process, though it always seemed a long shot. And while we’re not fully educated on the proceedings, Williams’ who would’ve been a fifth-year senior this year had he been allowed onto the field, wrote his own appeal to be allowed back onto the field.

In the end, while the details remain murky—not to mention incredibly frustrating—we finally know one thing for certain: Williams’ football career at Notre Dame is over.

Williams has a home at Notre Dame, even if football future is unclear

USC v Notre Dame

The curious case of Ishaq Williams has become clearer. But only slightly.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke about his exiled defensive end, who returned to campus this summer and is reenrolled in the university after serving a two-semester suspension for honor code violations. And while his role on the team—and his place among the 85 football scholarship roster spots—isn’t fully explainable (we’ll try later), Kelly did make it clear that Williams will be a part of the football program, will be on scholarship at Notre Dame, and will earn his degree.

“Every time I use my words it spins it differently,” Kelly said Monday to a group of assembled media at the Kelly Cares Football 101 event. “I want to be clear.  He’s back in school. We’re really excited about that part of it. And I know he’s back in school because he told me. He’s in workouts because I’ve seen him. Those two things I know for sure.

“All the other stuff is NCAA eligibility stuff that is a lot more complicated. It has to do with missed terms and hours and appeals and things like that. A lot more complicated. We’re gonna go through that process. He knows there’s a hill to climb there.”

Williams’ eligibility clock expires after the 2015 season. And after listening to Kelly’s latest comments, the tea leaves lead us to believe that the issue isn’t with Notre Dame, but rather with eligibility requirements set by the NCAA. Taking a step farther out on the branch—and again, this is pure speculation—one could make the slightly-more-than-educated-guess that Williams’ GPA, after being adjusted to reflect the courses where academic violations took place, might have slid below 2.0, the threshold for playing.

Regardless of Williams’ status with the NCAA,  the veteran defensive end will be a part of the football program. He could be a full-time member of the scout team, or he could be in the rotation at a seemingly healthy position, paired with Isaac Rochell at strong side defensive end. This detour in Williams’ career certainly won’t end his hopes of playing on Sundays.

“He still has a want and a desire to play in the NFL. He’s huge, he’s big and looks great,” Kelly said. “We’re going to work him out and he could practice with us, and keep himself in a position where he could go through a Senior Day and do all those things as well.”

While Williams hasn’t played up to his 5-star pedigree, there’s no doubt he’d be a nice piece of veteran depth to add to the front seven. But as the various parts of this process grind through the wheels of bureaucracy in Indianapolis, Kelly made it clear that Williams would achieve the ultimate goal of earning his degree from Notre Dame, something Williams never waved from during his suspension.

“He’ll be on scholarship,” Kelly said. “I’m not here to paint any pictures whether it’s this chance or that chance. All I know is he’s gonna be back in school and he’s going to get his degree from Notre Dame. If he plays football, we’ll be ecstatic for him. But the bottom line is he’s going to get his degree from Notre Dame.”


Williams to return for summer school, football future unclear


Ishaq Williams‘ future at Notre Dame was thrown off course last August, when he and four teammates were caught up in an academic dishonesty case. Nine months later, the defensive end, a projected senior starter in 2014, appears to have some clarity on the school front, though his on-field future is still cloudy.

The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen reports that Williams will be back on campus Monday to begin summer school. That means Williams’ re-admission into the university after a two-semester suspension appears to be complete.

What isn’t as certain is his return to the football field. With Notre Dame’s 85-man scholarship limit pushed to the brink, Williams return to Brian Kelly’s team—or his ability to be qualified academically to play—is still unclear.

While Kelly has spoken clearly about cornerback KeiVarae Russell’s return to both the field and university, Williams’ status is murkier. And without the details of what actually happened last August—student privacy laws and university policy have kept that under lock and key—it’s impossible to know what Williams’ situation actually is.

(Williams could be in a situation similar to the one that DaVaris Daniels reportedly found himself in, wanting to return to the football field, but unable to meet eligibility requirements after grades were adjusted.)

As Kelly himself pointed out in April, summer school could be part of the road back to eligibility, with his role on the team not necessarily solidified until fall camp.

“(There are) things that he’ll have to take care of in the summertime just to get the ball moving for his ability to be reinstated,” Kelly said back in April.

Making things even more interesting is news that Williams could potentially graduate from Notre Dame (something that’d likely take until the end of the fall semester) without playing for the Irish this fall. That scenario was thrown into the mix on Twitter, reportedly coming from a Brian Kelly talk to the ND Club of Miami.

That scenario sounds like it’d be a complete surprise to both Williams and his family. But with Williams’ eligibility clock technically still running last season, he has just this fall to complete his four seasons of on-field play.

The reality of the situation is that there isn’t necessarily a playbook for something this complicated, with too many variables for anything to be set in stone. A bursting-at-the-seams roster, a confusing eligibility situation and the process of readmission are all playing factors.

But getting Williams back on campus is the first step, and after a long layoff, that’s set to happen on Monday.