Alohi Gilman and Tony Jones both unsurprisingly head to the NFL

Alohi Gilman
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Alohi Gilman and Tony Jones both certainly know how to make an exit. Two of the stars of Notre Dame’s 33-9 victory against Iowa State in Saturday’s Camping World Bowl, both Gilman and Jones have announced they will forgo their final seasons of collegiate eligibility to chase NFL dreams.

Neither decision is surprising. Gilman transferred from Navy after his freshman season specifically with NFL aspirations in mind, frustrated by the military rules requiring he serve in the armed forces before pursuing professional football, a rule since reversed. After the NCAA denied him a waiver to play in 2017, Gilman started the last 26 games for the Irish, making 169 tackles, including six against the Cyclones.

A captain this past season, Gilman finished his Notre Dame career with three interceptions and six forced fumbles, the last of which came on a punt against Iowa State. A special teams role may be his next step, arguably undersized at 5-foot-10 ½ and a step slower than NFL receivers. Neither of those physical attributes would change with another season in college, but 13 more games of his physical style could result in an injury.

Similarly, Jones’ bowling ball running would only add wear and tear to his legs. Those reps would be better spent at the next level, even if it is as an undrafted free agent.

The last of his 14 career touchdowns was also his longest, an 84-yard dash down the sideline Saturday punctuated by an emphatic stiff arm. He finished the season as the leading Irish rusher in every regard, taking 144 carries for 857 yards with six touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per attempt.

No matter how he fares in the NFL, Jones will be long-remembered by Notre Dame fans for scoring the touchdown that sent the Irish to the College Football Playoff last year, bobbling a check-down pass before gathering it for a 51-yard score that ended any competitive nature at USC. Fittingly, his outstretched celebration at the end of that run highlighted his farewell Tuesday.

With Jones’ departure, the Irish currently expect 88 scholarship players in the fall. Junior tight end Cole Kmet has yet to declare if he will jump to the NFL draft, a distinct possibility after he reportedly received a second-round grade from NFL evaluators.

In Jones’ stead, Notre Dame will turn to a full position group: current junior Jafar Armstrong, sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemiser, freshman Kyren Williams and five-star recruit Chris Tyree. The situation at safety will be more clear cut, though partly due to a dearth of depth. Current freshman Kyle Hamilton and Ohio State graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor will lead the way on the back end of Clark Lea’s defense.