Mailbag: Opening Weekend


Happy Labor Day weekend, everybody. Here’s hoping you’re spending the holiday with friends, family… and some long-awaited college football.

With the Irish in their final practice before game day, let’s run through some of the mailbag questions you had for me. I tried to take something from everyone, but a quick reminder — a manifesto is not a question.

On to the questions from both Twitter and the comments:


@GregMusser: Is there news out on the fate of the 5 players since the investigation is over?

@FairCatch_Corby: Question about the investigation that’s bothered me: why would GC be involved in Honor Code violation? Does that always happen?

@bearcatirishfan: Are the four players currently “on leave” allowed to attend class until the results of the inquiry are final? Would be a shame for them to be cleared (if hat happened) and be two or three weeks behind on class work.

dmacirish: Is there any way you see notre dame “winning” with the academic investigation? for instance, if it ends up no one did anything wrong then i foresee a “cover up” being called on nd. if it ends up that there was a minor infraction but nothing major and they only miss a game or two, does nd end up classified as “just like everyone else but to arrogant to admit it”. if it ends up being a big thing, does everyone condemn nd and throw the hatchets at us?

Is there any way that you can see the general public looking at it and saying “notre dame handled it correctly and came to the right conclusion.”

Let’s get the academic investigation stuff out of the way first. As I wrote yesterday morning, Kelly’s comments on the Dan Patrick radio show gave us a clue that the investigation was all but over. That’s only one part of the process.

To address Corby’s question, the General Counsel was involved because there was a concern that NCAA rules were violated. After speaking with people very knowledgable about the process, the General Counsel worked with an outside firm as well, being proactive in the case of widespread issues — like we saw at North Carolina and some other cheating scandals that including university staff, etc.

As Father Jenkins stated, all of the students are still enrolled in classes and other than being held out of practice and meetings, they aren’t found to be guilty until proven innocent, even though that’s what a lot of the media reporting seemed to push along as truth.

To DMac’s point, I’m not sure anybody wins in this one, but I think there’ll be a level of relief for Notre Dame fans and coaches if this is found to be just five students making a poor academic decision. While that’s embarrassing and does chip away at the academic prestige of the Irish football program, it’s hardly the death kneel some reporters made it out to be.

As for the reaction to the upcoming Honor Code decision? That depends on the person. Like most things Notre Dame, you find out quite a bit about how someone feels about the Irish by the opinion they form. In this case, I have a hunch that we could see a few of the players on the field against Michigan, though that’s a leap I don’t think everyone should take, if only because it sets you up to be mighty disappointed.


sjb198: Keith, I saw this asked on a different board and it went unanswered. Were there revisions to the targeting rules during the off season?

The rule was tweaked slighty. But in my opinion, it still puts too much power in the snap judgment made by the official on the field, when it’s just as easy to suspend a player for the next game.

That said, I saw the rule executed perfectly last night, when a Ole Miss defender put his helmet right into the chin of Boise State’s quarterback. The ruling on the field was a 15-yard penalty and an ejection, and it stood after replay review.


@JMset3: over/under week 2 on Irish fans calling for BK’s head. Also, is Tyler Luatua the first H Back @ ND since early 90s?

I think that depends if the Irish beat Michigan. But honestly, if you’re calling for Kelly’s head this season, you’re pretty much a dummy. (At least after two games.)

As for the interesting part of your question, Kelly tried to use Mike Ragone as an H-back for a bit, but injuries made it difficult for Ragone to stay on the field.

We might be making too big of a deal out of Luatua’s official role on this team. If we’ve learned anything these past few years it’s that Kelly has used his tight end in a variety of ways, some of which could be considered traditional H-back duties.


@Johngoolsby12: How fast of tempo do u expect from Irish this year? Cinci fast?

No clue, John. Every year we talk about tempo offense I feel like Charlie Brown getting ready to kick the football. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t watch too much Cincinnati football back when Kelly was there. So to call it Cincy fast or Oregon fast or Boise fast seems to be a little hard to peg.

But listening to Everett Golson this week, he said it was a much faster operation than it was in 2012. So we’ll find out tomorrow.


NotreDan: Can you comment on the selection of captains this year versus last? As you know, I was vocal last year about the lack of “passion” in last year’s group (that they were inward, sort of quiet guys). I’m a little nervous that this year’s captains seem to be on the quiet side again, do you think they will be more active?


Dan, I think measuring passion is pretty difficult. Especially when you’re watching the team on a 42-inch flatscreen. But I get your point.

TJ Jones was a quiet guy. Bennett Jackson wasn’t necessarily the team’s most vocal leader. And Zack Martin had the reputation of being an internal guy, though I hardly think that’s the case.

If there was an issue, it was that Notre Dame’s best players weren’t their best leaders. So when you’ve got potential stars like Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt taking up the attention, perhaps that makes it more difficult for the leaders to lead.

I don’t feel comfortable connecting those dots, but I do like what BK did with captains this year. As he mentioned, the strength of this team is its youth. But you can’t turn your back on veteran leaders, so naming Cam McDaniel and Austin Collinsworth was a smart play from a program building standpoint. Both those guys are “lead from the front” types, and have the respect of their teammates.

You can say the same for Nick Martin, who is a really strong and vocal leader. And Sheldon Day is probably one of the most respected guys on the team. It’ll be interesting to see if Martin and Day are both two-year captains.

Because if they are, I can almost tell you right now who the captains are in 2015: Martin, Day, Jaylon Smith and Everett Golson.


@mbannon92: With so much youth and inexperience on both sides of the ball, do you think BK and the coaching staff will bring out the full playbook against Rice to gain experience and get in a groove for Michigan, or will they hold back so that that Michigan has a limited amount of tape to study?

I know Nude might object, but I don’t think you’re going to see every wrinkle on Saturday, especially if the Irish can get out to a comfortable lead.

But that’s likely because Rice will challenge the Irish in a much different way than Michigan does, and with a quarterback that hasn’t shown the best ability to throw the ball. That should allow VanGorder to be less multiple than he will be against Michigan, who will be running Doug Nussmeier’s offense, the former Alabama coordinator who had his way with the Irish defense in the BCS title game. (With the Crimson Tide’s personnel…)

Offensively, nothing the Irish will do on Saturday will be that different than the rest of the season. That said, they might hold a play or two back on that side of the ball to try and catch Greg Mattison off guard.


simmel65: How do you see Brian Kelly using the running backs? Is it going to be one guy each series, or do you see on of them being a primary back and then maybe a 3rd down guy and goal line back?

No clue. But I hardly think it’ll be a rotation, or something as simple as trading series. This isn’t the NFL preseason. These games count, so I’m guessing they’ll have a stable of plays that each back runs very well, and game plan and situation will determine who gets what. Or the hot hand. I’m excited to see what Greg Bryant looks like with a hot hand.

That said, Kelly has always said he prefers to have a lead back. It’s up to McDaniel, Tarean Folston or Bryant to go out and get the job.


@DrewBrennan77: What does ND need to do to improve their Red Zone offense and score TDs. It has been brutal the last few yrs. 

We could talk about this question for hours. But I think it comes down to execution and personnel. With Golson back, the zone read running game is in play. Remember, even though Golson didn’t have a designed run called for what felt like all of September, he still led Notre Dame in rushing touchdowns.

Outside of that, it’s doing a better job finishing off drives via execution. It’s always going to be harder to move the ball close to the goal line. Does that mean giving a more powerful back like Bryant the goal line carries? Is it properly utilizing Corey Robinson’s size? Being more accurate with the fade route? Running empty set, five wide at the goal line?

Red Zone has been a point of emphasis in both spring and fall camp, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Irish approach things. But they’ll have more options than when Tommy Rees was under center, just because of the QB run option.


padomer: Is Trumbetti that good? Or is Okwara still asleep (get it! cuz he a sleeper!), and will he ever wake up? Im beginning to put him into Ishaq territory, you?

I’m not sure about Trumbetti being that good, but he’s certainly an impressive player. Just talking with Mike Elston last week will tell you that. But he’s a freshman. And the Irish haven’t recruited a defensive end like him in a few years.  But don’t get down on Okwara. He’s still a teenager, and finally getting an opportunity to play a position that might better suit him.

Part of the problem of having excellent depth is the fact that your young hotshots don’t play until they’re ready. Okwara was stuck behind some pretty quality players in 2012, and last year the Irish had Prince Shembo (soon to be a starting linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons) and Jaylon Smith playing his position. It’s a pity he couldn’t redshirt in 2012, but that’s water under the bridge now.


mtflsmitty: Who do you think will be the “surprise breakout players” of the season? One for offense, one for defense.

On offense, I’ll go with Amir Carlisle. I was really high on him last year (and completely wrong), so why not double down. On defense, I’d have a hard time picking anybody but James Onwualu. I’ve got a soft spot for my fellow CDH Raiders.

But otherwise, consider me really high on Joe Schmidt. Even if he might get overpowered from time to time, I expect him to be a tackling machine.


Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Ball State v Penn State
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Entering spring practices, Notre Dame looked stocked at running back, returning two juniors who each rushed for at least 800 yards last season as well as a senior with 285 career touches. With three underclassmen supporting them, the Irish were wealthy in both depth and experience at running back.

But then Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree to receiver, in part due to that bounty at running back and in part to be more assured the speedster would find playing time regardless, and Logan Diggs transferred to LSU. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Jadarian Price, is recovering from an Achilles injury that, on a common timeline following that devastating injury, could hinder him yet in August and September, if not longer should there be any version of a setback. Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love has yet to arrive on campus.

Junior Audric Estimé may look the part of a workhorse, but the Irish depth is no longer as thorough and the experience has quickly diminished.

Enter Penn State graduate transfer running back Devyn Ford, adding depth back into the Irish backfield and possibly some untapped talent with his Friday commitment. Ford fell out of the Nittany Lions rotation the last two seasons simply because younger players impressed. He had 131 touches in his first two seasons, gaining 622 yards and scoring six times.

Ford focused on kickoff returns in 2021, taking 12 for 258 yards, an average of 21.5 yards, while getting just 14 carries for 61 yards. Then he was only a special teams contributor in 2022 as a pair of freshmen took over the rushing workload (Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combining for 1,928 yards on 323 carries) and the kickoff return duties (Singleton had 14 returns for an average of 24.9 yards and one touchdown). Ford’s on-field roles were gone, so he called it a season after just four games in order to preserve a year of eligibility, transferring with up to two seasons still ahead of him.

Ford arrived at Penn State in 2019 as the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class, per, and the No. 40 overall prospect. As anyone would expect from a recruiting profile like that, he was also sought by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, to name a few, as a high-school prospect. Players with that background somewhat rarely hit the transfer wire, making Ford an intriguing lottery ticket for Notre Dame.

Bringing in Ford gives the Irish 83 scholarship players expected for this fall, two less than the NCAA maximum allowed.

He wore No. 28 at Penn State, digits currently unclaimed on the Notre Dame roster aside from walk-on receiver Griffin Eifert, so unless Ford is proactively seeking a fresh start in all regards, he may end up in those familiar numbers in preseason practices. But let’s use his transfer announcement as an excuse to rattle off his “99-to-0” thoughts now.

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds per Penn State’s website.
2023-24 year, eligibility: Ford enrolled at Penn State in 2019, so he has played four years, but 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, and he stepped away from the Nittany Lions’ season after four games in 2022 in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility, meaning Ford has two years of eligibility remaining if wanted as he arrives in South Bend.
Depth Chart: Audric Estimé will start for Notre Dame in Dublin (88 days), barring injury. Behind him, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne is the most probable candidate to be the secondary Irish ball carrier, though he has his own history of injuries. Price should be given a lengthier runway to find full speed this season, a reason all on its own to want to bring in Ford. He could end up Estimé’s primary backup with an impressive preseason, but for now, presume Payne has that inside track while Ford begins his career in a gold helmet ahead of Love.
Recruiting: Some wondered if Ford’s collegiate career was concluded when he did not enter the transfer portal during the winter window. Instead, he entered the database in late April.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was Penn State’s receivers coach in 2019, Ford’s freshman year, giving the Irish some direct knowledge of Ford as both a player and as a person, as well as a connection while he looked for a new school.

Ford came out of the gates strong in Happy Valley before his playing time dwindled, the kind of start expected from a recruit of his caliber, no matter how his Penn State career ended.

2019: 12 games; 52 rushes for 294 yards and three touchdowns with five catches for 30 yards.
2020: 6 games; 67 rushes for 274 yards and three touchdowns with seven catches for 24 yards.
2021: 8 games; 14 rushes for 61 yards and three catches for 18 yards while returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.5 yards.
2022: 4 games; 7 rushes for 37 yards.

If Ford spent a chunk of May in Paris, then delaying his transfer decision was an exceedingly understandable decision.

Ford’s freshman year highlights show a player who should contribute for Notre Dame this fall. He does not run with the same force as Estimé — who does? — but Ford is an all-around back with able hands as a safety valve in the flat. Presuming he devotes himself to pass blocking, there should never be a moment when his being on the field gives away a play’s intention to the defense.

His tendency to keep his feet moving through contact allows Ford to maintain balance even after an initial hit, wearing out the defense a bit at the very least.

All of which is to say, Ford should be more than a place-filler transfer. Logically, at least one of Payne, Price and Love will be slowed by injury or fatigue this fall, a probability among any three running backs but a higher one among two with injury concerns and a third being a true freshman. If one of them gives pause, Ford will be no lower than Notre Dame’s fourth running back.

Because Estimé and Diggs were so durable last season, the Irish never leaned on a fourth back, but as often as not, one is needed. Consider the 2017-2019 averages from the fourth Notre Dame running backs in each season, taking 37.3 carries per season for 141.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Those were backs by the names of Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, respectively.

Ford could add something similar to the Irish backfield in 2023. He certainly once had the physical skillset to do so. And if that becomes reality, no one should be more grateful than Estimé.

Just because Ford will have eligibility in 2024 does not mean he will use it. That will be up to both the Irish coaching staff and Ford.

But given the likelihood Estimé heads to the NFL after 2023, keeping Ford around as an able body in the running back room would make sense. That may be where Diggs’ departure has the greatest impact. The odds were against both Estimé and Diggs having a strong enough 2023 season to justify jumping to the NFL, so one of them would have returned in 2024 and Notre Dame would have had four backs returning plus a freshman or two. (The No. 1 all-purpose back in the class, consensus four-star Aneyas Williams is currently the only Irish commitment at the position in the class of 2024.)

The Irish would now need Ford or yet another transfer to have those kinds of numbers, and the advantage of Ford will be familiarity.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023

Notre Dame Spring Football Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 220 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Thomas has three years of eligibility remaining thanks to playing in only three games as a freshman.
Depth Chart: Thomas’s moments of success in 2022 made him a clear starter for this coming season, the only question being at what position. By the end of spring practices, Thomas looked like the frontrunner at the boundary position, a similar big body as past boundary stars Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Kevin Austin, though significantly shorter than those predecessors.
Recruiting: Considered the No. 45 receiver in the class of 2021 by, Thomas turned down most of the SEC as he chose Notre Dame, most notably his homestate Georgia. And any recruit chased by the Bulldogs in the last four years stands out more than usual given the overall quality of Georgia’s roster.

Thomas played all of 14 snaps as a freshman, spread across three November blowouts, but in practices leading up to the 2021 Fiesta Bowl, there was increasing hype around him possibly contributing. Then, Thomas did not play against Oklahoma State, despite then-Irish quarterback Jack Coan setting a program record with 70 dropbacks while throwing to effectively just three receivers.

That literal no-show threw Thomas’s progress into doubt. Was the hype real or the product of a fluke bowl practice?

Thomas proved it real with 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns last season, including five snags for 66 yards in the Gator Bowl win against South Carolina. Of those 25 receptions, 18 gained a first down, including eight on third down and another pair on second-and-long. When Notre Dame needed a chunk gain and tight end Michael Mayer was covered, Thomas was the most frequent beneficiary.

2021: 3 games.
2022: 13 games, 7 starts; 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by three catches for 80 yards and a score against Navy.

Thomas is an avid golfer, at least as much as a Division I football player can be. (Scroll to the last picture in this Instagram post to see evidence of such.) Given NBC may be the biggest broadcast partner in golf, one would think some opportunity could exist for Thomas down the road, be it with a sponsor or simply a day watching a tournament from an up-close vantage point.

Until then, Thomas offers personalized videos for fans via Cameo.

Thomas excelled out of the slot last season, many of those first-down gains coming when he worked downfield just past the linebacker level but still in front of the safeties. That positioning was advantageous for Thomas, and he knew it.

“In the slot, I definitely feel like I can get mismatches, whether that’s a nickel, smaller nickel, safety or even a linebacker,” Thomas said this spring. “None of those people can guard me at all.”

But with senior Chris Tyree moving to receiver from running back, slot is most likely filled by his speed. Moving Thomas to boundary will require some physical growth from him, even if some analysts already mistake him for a tight end.

“Definitely in the offseason, the spring, got to gain a little bit more muscle just to help me with my physicality and also speed,” Thomas said.

“The spring version of Thomas was tantalizing. A leg injury played a role in his hushed freshman season, as did the strong play of Kevin Austin. Now fully healthy and without any clear-cut starter ahead of him, Thomas broke through. He may not be towering, but he has a wide frame, its own version of a size advantage. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash before arriving at Notre Dame, better speed than one expects when looking at him.

“That combination is what the Irish had in mind when they chased the Peach State product. That combination could make him a 2022 starter. At the very least, he will be a contributor.

“Notre Dame needs him to be.

“When the Irish face Ohio State (104 days), they will have just six or seven healthy scholarship receivers. One of those will be a former walk-on, Matt Salerno. Another will be a freshman yet to partake in a single practice, Tobias Merriweather. The ‘or seven’ will be sixth-year Avery Davis, recovering from an ACL torn in November. It seems increasingly likely fifth-year Joe Wilkins is not yet full-go after suffering a Lisfranc injury this spring.

“Notre Dame will hardly have a two-deep depth chart at receiver, so each available will be needed.

“And this spring suggested Thomas will be up to that task. If all he needs is chances like he got this spring, then he will have them. If he can produce — especially before Wilkins returns later in the season — then the Irish will continue going to him; they will have no one else to go to.

“A dozen catches from Thomas this season may seem like minimal production, but that would be enough to force defenses to acknowledge him on routes, opening up the field for the likes of [Braden] Lenzy, [Lorenzo] Styles and star tight end Michael Mayer. If he builds that out to 20 catches, then suddenly Notre Dame’s offense may be nearing a worthwhile hum. …

“Lenzy should be gone in 2023. Davis certainly will be. Wilkins’ injury throws some uncertainty into his projections. But either way, the time will fully arrive for the Irish stellar 2021 receiver recruiting to pay off.

“Pulling in a trio of four-star receivers was unlike Notre Dame of late. It had not snagged that many four-star receivers in one class since 2015. In the five cycles between those two classes, the Irish snagged a total of 5 four- or five-star receivers, lowlighted by not signing a single receiver in the class of 2019.

“Things have bettered in this regard, or they at least seem to be, but for now, Notre Dame still needs to make the most of every possible perimeter playmaker it has on its roster. All three of Styles, [Deion] Colzie and Thomas need to pan out for the Irish to sniff the Playoff in the next two or three seasons.

“A full season of snaps with that dozen catches could propel Thomas into a strong offseason and such rewards.”

Thomas met and exceeded last year’s modest expectations, more impressive when remembering he was not a consistent starter until the season’s final month. Stepping into a more leading role with a far more prolific quarterback directing the offense should amplify Thomas’s stats by default.

Are 50 catches possible? Yes, though that may be about Thomas’s ceiling this season, given Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman should want to spread the ball around his targets, and 50 receptions could be nearly a fifth of Hartman’s completions.

More precisely, Thomas continuing to provide needed chunk gains would propel Notre Dame’s offense in ways that other receivers may be unable. Continuing at last year’s rate of first downs while catching 50 passes would equal moving the chains 36 times. That may be extreme, but doing so twice per week would make Thomas one of the more crucial receiving targets in recent Irish offenses.

All of Notre Dame’s receivers, aside from former walk-on Matt Salerno, may return in 2024, and the junior duo of Thomas and Deion Colzie should be the established leaders next year. With that acknowledged reality, pondering a transfer from Thomas would be foolish.

It would take a far more prolific season than 50 catches for Thomas to ponder the NFL, not boasting elite speed or shiftiness which are the usual musts for early draft entrants among receivers.

In other words, Thomas may be looking to snag triple-digit catches across the next two seasons, if not more.

Thomas’ leadership, freshmen arrivals already improve Notre Dame’s receivers room

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

One defensive lineman drops from Notre Dame’s class of 2024, consensus four-star end Loghan Thomas joins


Only a few hours after a consensus four-star defensive lineman de-committed from Notre Dame, the Irish landed a pledge from consensus four-star defensive end Loghan Thomas (Paetow High School; Katy, Texas) on Wednesday evening. After a visit to South Bend this weekend, Thomas chose Notre Dame over finalists Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Arizona.

LSU, Texas, Texas A&M and USC were among the others to offer Thomas a scholarship.

A two-year starter already in high school, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Thomas’s body-type alone likely caught some recruiters’ attention. On top of that, he tested well at recruiting events following his junior season. ranks Thomas the No. 9 weakside defensive end in the class of 2024, the No. 30 overall prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 162 recruit in the entire class, all fitting for a player who has used his length to star at a strong level of high school football.

Length has long — pun intended — been a focus for Irish head coach Marcus Freeman along the defensive line, and Thomas’s combines with enough strength to make arm tackles without much worry of a broken carry. His stride is long enough to quickly cover ground in the backfield.

Thomas plays mostly out of a two-point stance, upright, so learning the nuances of rushing the passer from a three-point stance will be the first piece of growth ahead of him at the collegiate level. Adding some heft to his frame will also be on the to-do list, though that should occur naturally, at least to some extent, in the next 18 months regardless.

Thomas joins Notre Dame’s class the same day consensus four-star defensive tackle Owen Wafle (Hun School; Princeton, N.J.) halted a year-long commitment.

“This decision was not made lightly, as Notre Dame has a rich football legacy that I truly admire,” Wafle wrote on Twitter. “However, I believe it’s important for me to explore other opportunities and find the best fit for my personal and athletic development.”

With Wafle’s de-commitment and Thomas’s commitment, the Irish continue to have 16 expected signees in the class of 2024 and three defensive linemen, Thomas joining consensus three-star end Cole Mullins (Mill Creek H.S.; Hoschton, Ga.) and four-star end Bryce Young (Charlotte Christian; N.C.).

Notre Dame announces 2023 NBC kickoff times, led by Ohio State and USC in prime time

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Notre Dame will host two preseason top-25 teams, possibly both top-10 teams, in back-to-back home games in prime time in 2023, the Irish and NBC announced Wednesday afternoon. Ohio State’s Sept. 23 visit and USC’s Oct. 14 arrival will both kick off at 7:30 ET.

Coming off a College Football Playoff appearance and third in the last four years, the Buckeyes look poised to again contend for the Big Ten title and a possible Playoff bid. Not to be too blunt, but the trip to Notre Dame will be Ohio State’s first genuine challenge of 2023, opening the season at Indiana before welcoming FCS-level Youngstown State and then Western Kentucky.

Notre Dame will have already played four games, including a trip abroad and a trip to North Carolina State.

That season-opening venture to Dublin will feature a later kickoff than may have been anticipated. Announced on Tuesday as a sellout, Notre Dame will kick off at 2:30 ET on NBC against Navy, much later than the 9 a.m. kickoff in 2012, the last time the Irish and the Midshipmen played in Ireland. This year’s trip is somewhat a make-up from having to scrap the planned trip in 2020, hence the unusual occurrence of Notre Dame playing a home game away from South Bend in this annual series.

After the dalliance across the Atlantic, the Irish will face an FCS-level program for the first time in history, Tennessee State and head coach Eddie George visiting on Sept. 2 at 3:30 ET. Logically, as soon as Notre Dame agreed to move its date with Navy to Dublin, meeting an FCS opponent became inevitable, either that or shoehorn in an early off week.

Instead, the Trojans will arrive in South Bend just before the first Irish off week, also kicking off at 7:30 ET on Oct. 14. With Heisman-winner, Heisman-frontrunner and contender to be the No. 1 pick quarterback Caleb Williams leading it, USC will also be a trendy Playoff contender in 2023. Competitively, the Trojans will be coming off a rather pedestrian early-season stretch.

Looking at ESPN’s SP+ rankings to gauge the first half of USC’s schedule sheds light on how likely it is the Trojans will be undefeated in mid-October. None of their first six opponents rank in the top 60 in the country, and three of them are in the bottom 30. Again leaning into the SP+ numbers, USC should be favored by three possessions in every one of those games, with the first three of those looking like edges well north of 30 points and two more being around four touchdowns.

Thus, Notre Dame and NBC should welcome multiple unbeaten top-10 teams in primetime this year.

The 33rd year of Notre Dame on NBC will feature six games aired on both NBC and Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, as well as one game exclusively available on Peacock, the Sept. 16 tilt with Central Michigan at 2:30 ET.

The Irish home slate will conclude with a Senior Day showing from Wake Forest at 3:30 ET on Nov. 18, new Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman’s previous team.

Aug. 26: vs. Navy in Dublin at 2:30 ET
Sept. 2: vs. Tennessee State at 3:30 ET
Sept. 16: vs. Central Michigan at 2:30 ET on Peacock
Sept. 23: vs. Ohio State at 7:30 ET
Oct. 14: vs. USC at 7:30 ET
Oct. 28: vs. Pittsburgh at 3:30 ET
Nov. 18: vs. Wake Forest at 3:30 ET