Notre Dame will return its entire late-season safety rotation in 2022, somewhat unthinkable entering the season but a reality, nonetheless, after safety DJ Brown announced Friday night that he will return for a fifth year.
Brown has two seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to playing in only one game as a freshman and then the pandemic universal eligibility waiver granting him an additional year. Along with classmate Houston Griffith, who will use that waiver year in 2022, Brown will lead a suddenly veteran secondary next season.
His role increased in 2021 when star junior Kyle Hamilton suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of Notre Dame’s seventh game. Brown started the following week and then became part of a three-man rotation with Griffith and sophomore converted-cornerback Ramon Henderson. When Henderson intercepted a pass in the home finale against Georgia Tech, he gave the credit to Brown for correcting his alignment just before the snap.
That trio led the way as the Irish defense feasted on lackluster opponents in November, not giving up a touchdown in the month until the second half of the regular-season finale at Stanford.
The three of them, as well as sophomore receiver-turned-linebacker-turned-safety Xavier Watts, should give Notre Dame both depth and experience at safety next season, a 2022 concern when 2021 began, a vague downside to Hamilton’s expected rampant success.
Brown finished with 42 tackles in 12 games this season, adding three interceptions, tying him with Hamilton for the team lead in picks.
Though two significant decisions remain unmade, or at least unannounced, in defensive end Isaiah Foskey and center Jarrett Patterson, Brown continues a strong showing for the Irish this offseason in returning players who could have otherwise ended their collegiate careers.
NFL-bound with eligibility remaining: Safety Kyle Hamilton, running back Kyren Williams, receiver Kevin Austin.
Returning after pondering the NFL: Receiver Braden Lenzy, safety Houston Griffith, offensive lineman Josh Lugg, defensive end Justin Ademilola, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, safety DJ Brown.
Expected to transfer out: Safety Khari Gee, linebacker Shayne Simon, punter Jay Bramblett, linebacker Paul Moala, offensive lineman Quinn Carroll, cornerback Caleb Offord.
Trying to think of the runner-up. Is it DJ Brown?
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 10, 2021