Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 20 Justin Walters, early-enrolled freshman safety

Justin Walters 2021
Notre Dame Athletics

Listed measurements: 6-foot ⅝, 178 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: The one class on Notre Dame’s roster with clear eligibility parameters, Walters has four seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Walters spent the spring working with the Irish second-team, notable for a high school senior but with an asterisk given star junior Kyle Hamilton was held out of all spring practices. Either way, Walters appears to be in the mix for some playing time as a freshman.
Recruiting: The consensus three-star prospect and the No. 37 safety in the class, per rivals.com, Walters could have gone to most Big Ten schools when the Chicagoland product instead chose Notre Dame.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Sure, aim big.

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN WALTERS SIGNED
“Walters’ physical playing style and fundamental tackling form should give him a high floor to work from. Both his recruiting rankings and overall evaluations would be better filled out if 2020 had included more camps, etc., but the fact that the Irish pursued him so aggressively so quickly should speak volumes on what the coaching staff thinks of Walters.

“Walters may not start in 2021, but Notre Dame will need backup safeties to emerge, and as long as his fundamental tackling form stays true, that trust alone could push him into the rotation, trust he can certainly further as an early enrollee.”

QUOTES
The pandemic cost some recruits more than others, and while Walters likely would have ended up in South Bend regardless, his recruiting rankings suffered due to the lack of a senior season.

“Justin made all these athletic gains between his junior and senior year, and then lost his senior fall,” then Irish recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said in February. “If you ask these guys, ‘Would you rather stay at home and hope that you play in the winter or would you rather get to school and get started with strength and conditioning and spring practice? …’”

Walters did impress in the spring, a more important step forward than bettering his position ranking at Rivals with a final high school season. Both Polian and new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman praised Walters throughout April.

2021 OUTLOOK
Polian, also the special teams coordinator, went so far as to describe Walters as a “fast riser” when it comes to special teams work. If Walters becomes a primary contributor on Polian’s coverage units, then that alone may push him past the four-game threshold, and that in turn could elevate him in the safety rotation.

Hamilton is unlikely to come off the field until the Irish are up by three touchdowns, and senior Houston Griffith is competing with senior DJ Brown to serve as Hamilton’s primary running mate, so the safety rotation will not run deep, but Notre Dame will win games by three touchdowns — this space is routinely hinting these days at a prediction of two blowouts in the first three weeks — and Walters may be the beneficiary of those routs.

DOWN THE ROAD
Hamilton will head to the NFL after 2021. He could be a top-five pick; anyone suggesting he stay in college needs to take six steps back from the conversation.

That will leave a massive void for the Irish at safety, one anyone could step into and one that will be filled with uncertainty simply because Hamilton will leave so little room for anyone to impress this fall.

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
No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter
No. 25 Philip Riley, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back
No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker, onetime pandemic hero
No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety
No. 23 Kyren Williams, junior running back
No. 22 Logan Diggs, incoming freshman running back
No. 22 Chance Tucker, freshman cornerback
No. 21 Lorenzo Styles, early-enrolled freshman receiver
No. 21 Caleb Offord, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, senior running back, coming off an offseason with a smirch

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