Isaiah Foskey wasted no time with any goals but the highest. In his first comments since announcing he will return to Notre Dame for a senior year, the defensive end set a high bar for expectations in 2022. Some would say an impossibly high bar.
“We can actually win a national championship,” Foskey said Friday, his second sentence of that interview. “I believe that we can actually do that.”
Foskey would likely have been a second-day draft pick this spring. To give that quick context, former Irish offensive guard Aaron Banks was the No. 48 overall pick last year, the 16th pick in the second round, and received a four-year, $7.07-million contract in that draftslot. In turning down that kind of possibility, Foskey was not making an entirely selfless decision.
“The best thing, the best of both worlds, I can come back, develop as a defensive player,” Foskey said. “Not just as a pass-rusher, as an all-around defensive player.”
If Foskey’s development pushes him up into the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, a bump in pay will follow. For example, the No. 20 overall pick last year, receiver Kadarius Toney, received a four-year, $13.7-million contract.
And that kind of development will be Foskey’s focus.
“Biggest focus, just being an all-around defensive player, not just pass rush,” he said. “Everyone sees that I can get to the quarterback, but I want to really emphasize I can stop the run, hold the edge, make plays, make a lot more [tackles for loss], and of course make more sacks than I did this year.”
In that last respect, Foskey lets on a bit more self-indulgence. Becoming a more complete defender would obviously help a Notre Dame defense returning seven starters, but hoping to add a few more sacks is an acknowledgment of an understandable want to end up in the Irish record books.
And that is quite the change for Foskey. This past October, when he already had eight sacks through seven games, Foskey insisted he had no idea what the Notre Dame single-season sack record was. In an interview session that covered topics ranging from sleep habits to NIL deals to draft hopes, Foskey was consistently transparent with his answers, clearly relaxed after the Irish had just beaten rival USC, so there was no indication he was being coy. Foskey genuinely did not know the sacks record or that he was on pace to break Justin Tuck’s 2004 mark of 13.5 sacks.
Foskey fell short, ending the season with 11. Frankly, Notre Dame facing only one starting quarterback in November worked against Foskey’s chances of breaking that record.
Returning in 2022 will give him that chance anew.
“Another reason I came back, too, I was close to that sack record,” Foskey said. “13.5.”
Now no one needs to remind him of the number.
“Getting another run at that.”
Of course, if Foskey comes near Tuck’s single-season record, he should smash Tuck’s career mark of 24.5 sacks. Foskey already has 15.5.
The comparisons to Tuck will be plenty, partly due to the parallels. Tuck’s junior season ended with a notable bowl loss to an orange-clad OSU — Oregon State beating the Irish in the Insight Bowl rather than Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. He could have then returned to a promising team with a first-year head coach in 2005. Instead, Tuck began a Hall of Fame career and the left side of Notre Dame’s defensive line was lacking when Matt Lienart scrambled toward the pylon that October.
By returning, Foskey has already differentiated himself from Tuck, and that bowl game faceplant played a part in that decision, even if Foskey was a primary reason the Irish still had a chance in the closing minutes on New Year’s Day.
“Leaving that game, I felt like I had to come back,” he said. “I can’t leave Notre Dame, leave my Notre Dame experience off a bad note.”
If the Irish reach Foskey’s lofty goals, both personal and for the team, then he will leave Notre Dame on anything but a bad note.
“Everyone has the same mentality, same thinking that I do,” he said. “This team could be the team that could go to win a national championship, and the people that are coming back, they know that they can be the leaders that could lead us to a national championship.”
Foskey offered encouragement for former Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston as he takes over the same position at Michigan. Elston gave his unit a few days of warning that he might be returning to his alma mater, so when the news went public, Foskey was no longer surprised.
“I’m always happy for him that he’s going to Michigan, and it’s just a fresh new start,” Foskey said. “I’m always happy for our guy.”
NFL-bound with eligibility remaining: Safety Kyle Hamilton, running back Kyren Williams, receiver Kevin Austin, linebacker Isaiah Pryor, defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa.
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, defensive end Isaiah Foskey, center Jarrett Patterson, receiver Avery Davis.
Expected to transfer out: Safety Khari Gee, linebacker Shayne Simon, punter Jay Bramblett, linebacker Paul Moala, offensive lineman Quinn Carroll, cornerback Caleb Offord, cornerback KJ Wallace.