Kyle Hamilton wants to return to play, he just can’t yet, per Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. Since suffering a knee injury in the first quarter against USC three weeks ago, Hamilton has not yet again donned pads, leading to much speculation that the star junior safety may have quietly opted to protect his NFL draft status and not return this season. Every expectation suggests Hamilton will be a top-10 pick, if not a top-5.
But Kelly said Thursday that Hamilton hasn’t even had the opportunity to make that type of decision, and it is not one he will make.
“Kyle Hamilton is not ready to play,” Kelly said. “Let me be really clear on this, because I think there’s a bunch of narratives out there about Kyle. Kyle is not cleared medically to play. Once he’s cleared medically to play, he has every intention of playing. He just hasn’t been cleared yet.”
The initial timeline following Hamilton’s injury would have had him return last week against Navy, but Hamilton remained in a headset on the sideline. Both the timing — Kelly is notoriously optimistic about players returning from injuries quickly — and the triple-option opponent made that possibility a likelihood all week. If Hamilton was anything short of 100 percent healthy, playing him against Navy would have been both unnecessary and tempting fate.
Facing Virginia (6-3) this weekend (7:30 ET, ABC), Hamilton’s absence will be more notable, but No. 9 Notre Dame (8-1) will have to persist without him. With only two games remaining in the regular season after this weekend, and then a possible New Year’s Day bowl game ahead, Hamilton’s runway to a return is shortening.
“Once our doctors give him clearance, he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Kelly said. “This isn’t a young man that doesn’t want to play, that is protecting himself for the NFL draft or a bunch of that stuff. Here’s a guy that’s in the weight room, he’s doing all the right things that an engaged captain of our football team would do, but he’s just not cleared right now.
“He’s dealing with an injury that takes time, and it’s taken more time. Like I said, when our medical people clear him, he’ll be back. That just hasn’t been the case.”
If nothing else, Kelly’s repeated lines there should halt the questioning of Hamilton, included in every Kelly press conference, at least as a subtext to Hamilton’s availability if not mentioned outright. It will not, however, do anything to help the Irish against one of the most potent offenses in the country, led by Cavaliers junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong.
Armstrong is dealing with an injury of his own, a clear ribs injury suffered two weeks ago, but Kelly fully expects him to start Saturday night.