Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter

Clarence Lewis 2021
Notre Dame Athletics

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11 ½, 192 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: Despite appearing in all 12 games and starting in six as a freshman last season, Lewis has four years of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. If his career were to somehow play out across five seasons of consistent playing time, Lewis could thus challenge the career games played record expected to be set by fifth-year defensive tackle Kurt Hinish this season.
Depth Chart: Lewis took over as Notre Dame’s starting field cornerback to end 2020, stepping in for Tariq Bracy as he struggled in one-on-one coverage, and Lewis should again start there on Labor Day Eve (69 days).
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect and the No. 84 defensive back in the class, per rivals.com, the New Jersey-native was sought by the usual Northeast football programs, such as Temple, Rutgers and Boston College, but also by all the Power Five programs in the Virginias and chunks of the Big Ten.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
So much of this week’s name, image and likeness rights arrival remains uncertain from afar. What athletes will have deals in hand Thursday, the first day such is legal? What companies — what types of companies will pursue these opportunities most aggressively?

The NCAA acquiesced this week, literal years of inaction disguised as an action, so that every athlete at every school in every state can access NIL revenues, no matter what the state government has decided. That means Notre Dame’s supposedly robust approach can be implemented this week.

One select group that may find this lucrative moving forward would have included Lewis a year ago. When an unheralded recruit finds a contributing or even starting, role early in his freshman season, that will represent a proverbial “buy low” opportunity for a company looking for a solid return on its marketing investment.

CAREER TO DATE
A true freshman cornerback who did not start the opener may not be expected to finish fifth on the team in tackles, not to mention second on the team in passes broken up, but such was Lewis’s effective debut campaign. As Bracy struggled late in the year, particularly against Clemson and North Carolina, Lewis’s role only increased, to the extent that he made a team season-high 12 tackles against Syracuse on Senior Day.

2020: 12 games, six starts; 33 tackles, seven passes broken up, one forced fumble.

QUOTE
When Lewis emerged from preseason practices as a genuine backup to Bracy it surprised those who had not seen preseason practices (so, everybody), but when he started against South Florida when pandemic protocols held out Bracy, Lewis proved himself quickly. Nonetheless, the quick acceleration in playing time shocked him a bit, too.

“I just didn’t know what to expect when I first got here,” he said in April. “I just put my head down and worked.”

To be clear, playing Lewis from the outset was not necessarily Notre Dame’s plan.

“He was forced into playing time, probably earlier than we would have liked,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said toward the end of spring practices. “Now it’s catch-up. It’s catching up (in) the weight room with the physical traits, and he’s doing a nice job. He’s got some work to do. That’s where this summer will be huge for him. … This will be a big year for him in terms of getting stronger because that gives him the suddenness to get in and out of breaks and the things he’s going to need to continue to grow with.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN LEWIS SIGNED TWO YEARS AGO
“Lewis’ recruiting rankings do not necessarily properly reflect his agility, at the least. Cornerbacks are at their best when able to shift with a route, and Lewis has that innate ability. Even more than that, that shiftiness works in his favor when he picks off passes, returning four interceptions for scores in the last two seasons. …

“A shotgun approach is far from preferable at a position as crucial at cornerback, or at any position, frankly, but if one of [2020’s] cornerback signees develops into a strong-quality starter, then the recruiting tactic will have proven a savvy one, if frustrating, nonetheless.”

2021 OUTLOOK
Raising the bar on Lewis’s impressive freshman year may seem ambitious, but the pandemic plays a role in the thought. For the most part, Notre Dame struggled to bring along new players and new schemes during the pandemic; there was only so much time to prep at all, let alone with enough people involved, so implementing new pieces was more difficult than ever. Yet, Lewis excelled.

Add in some genuine strength and conditioning work, and perhaps Lewis can be even better. Add in the consistency of starting from the opener and expecting that each week, and perhaps Lewis can find some routine.

The sophomore is one of two pieces in the Irish secondary that are assumed, the other obviously being star junior safety and preseason All-American Kyle Hamilton. New defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman values consistency in coverage — compared to varied looks up front — so much will be put on Lewis’s plate.

He should be able to handle it. In fact, let’s up the ante. His interceptions in high school set Lewis apart. Anticipate at least two this season.

DOWN THE ROAD
Lewis will need to show quick development to warrant conversation of him leaving after his junior year in 2022, a la Julian Love, but that may be the carrot to dangle in front of him. Love’s strong freshman season set the stage for a breakout sophomore year that nearly guaranteed he would turn pro as soon as he could.

If Lewis finds the same trajectory, then Notre Dame will be quite pleased.

It is more likely he ends up a four-year starter in South Bend, hardly something to shake one’s head at.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 38 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 37 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, junior linebacker

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