Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery

Cincinnati v Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-3, 280 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A fifth-year veteran, Ademilola has one season of eligibility remaining, one granted only by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.
Depth Chart: Ademilola will start for the Irish at three-technique tackle for a second straight season after starting all 13 games there last year. Senior Howard Cross will demand a fair share of playing time, as well.
Recruiting: The No. 13 defensive tackle in his class, per rivals.com, Ademilola could have gone anywhere he wanted. Of particular note in retrospect, Georgia chased Ademilola as it put together last year’s generational defense. A consensus four-star prospect and U.S. Army All-American, Ademilola also pondered Michigan, Alabama and Ohio State.

CAREER TO DATE
Ademilola has been a contributor since he arrived at Notre Dame, though that was partly a nod to the Irish lack of depth on the defensive interior back in 2018, especially once Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa broke his foot in the first game of the season. Ademilola took over as a starter in 2021 when Tagovailoa-Amosa moved out to “Big” end, a decision made knowing Ademilola was ready to be a starter. Frankly, he could have started in 2020 if not limited a bit by a slight meniscus tear.

Similarly, a shoulder injury plagued Ademilola much of 2021, something he played through with little ill effect.

2018: 12 games; 19 tackles with 1.5 for loss including half a sack.
2019: 11 games; 25 tackles with four for loss.
2020: 8 games, 3 starts; 11 tackles with 1.5 for loss including half a sack.
2021: 13 games, 13 starts; 49 tackles with eight for loss including 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Ademilola and his twin brother, end Justin, were quick to capitalize on NIL rights last year, managing to do so in understandable ways before delving into the uncertainty of NFTs.

QUOTES
Ademilola reportedly received a “return to school” grade when he sought an NFL draft evaluation, though all that really means is he would have likely been a day-three pick. There was still an NFL opportunity available to him if he wanted it. Instead, he opted for a fifth season, a choice coming between the promotion of Marcus Freeman as Notre Dame’s head coach and the abrupt departure of defensive line coach Mike Elston for Michigan.

More pertinent than those coaching changes, Ademilola timed his announcement in short order with twin Justin and senior Vyper end Isaiah Foskey. Bringing all three back to lead a line — a line that unquestionably has other threats in junior Big end Rylie Mills and senior nose tackle Jacob Lacey, among others — gives the Irish one of the best defensive lines in the country in 2022.

“The decision to return with my brother and Isaiah to come back was great,” Ademilola said in January. “The excitement I have for next season is at an all-time high, just knowing the guys in the room, we love to go at it. We love to get after the football, we love the game. These are my brothers that I’ve been with the whole time, and being with the guys in the room and all of us learning off each other, we can’t wait to start up again.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Forecasting a defensive tackle’s stat line is a treacherous task, as a successful defensive tackle often creates more opportunities for linebackers and defensive ends than for himself. That said, aside from broad defensive success, one area to look at to discern Ademilola’s effectiveness in 2021 will be his sack count.

“Whether it be by benefiting from group sacks or by getting into the backfield on his own, a starting defensive tackle should make at least a few sacks throughout a season, if not five or six. Given Ademilola’s long-established pass-rush abilities, that latter range would be more fitting.

“He may well have a productive season and make only one sack. If Freeman’s defense is successful, Ademilola will have much to do with it, simply via the nature of his position. But a dominant defensive tackle gets to the quarterback, something Ademilola has not yet done, nor necessarily had the ample chance to do. …

“A fifth season was never expected from a defensive tackle recruited as heavily as Ademilola was, but that may become the case.

“If he plays well enough in 2021 to earn a second- or third-round draft grade, Ademilola should head to the NFL. Football lifespans are too short to try to turn that into a first-round grade when a paycheck and a chance to prove himself at the highest level await. But anything lower than the third round and Notre Dame would gladly welcome back an established starting defensive tackle, both for his abilities and the depth his return would create.

“There are some 2022 possibilities created only by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver that will be meaningless in South Bend; maybe those players transfer and capitalize elsewhere, but the Irish will not compound their roster construction to exhaust those careers. Ademilola is not one of those players.

“Notre Dame will take every snap he can give, but that should not come at the young man’s expense.”

2022 OUTLOOK
The thought that Ademilola amassed 49 tackles with eight behind the line of scrimmage last season while injured for some of it is a thought that should terrify Irish opponents in 2022. He has not looked to make an excuse of it, but his shoulder injury was enough of a concern that surgery soon after the Fiesta Bowl kept Ademilola out of all of spring practices.

“This kind of happened in the beginning of the season,” he said in January with his arm in a sling. “It didn’t slow me down from playing throughout the whole season. It was something that toward the end of the season, I knew I could get it cleaned up if I chose to, and I decided to get my shoulder cleaned up so I can move forward and be an elite player starting next season.”

Take Ademilola at his word that the shoulder was never an issue on Saturdays, and his 49 tackles should be viewed as a baseline in 2022. Read between the lines of what he said and realize he somewhat thinks that shoulder injury kept him from being “elite” next season. If that veiled modesty acknowledges such a truth, Ademilola could have a truly dominant 2022.

The combination of him and likely first-round draft pick Foskey will terrorize opposing quarterbacks. Foskey will get the headlines as he once again chases Justin Tuck’s school record for sacks in a season (and in career), but Ademilola may prove just as disruptive.

If he has 40-plus tackles once again and manages a few more sacks, then Notre Dame’s defensive line will surely be as dangerous as advertised, the foundation on which new defensive coordinator Al Golden will build his entire attack. Frankly, this will be the best unit on the Irish roster in 2022, and thus it may determine just how good Notre Dame can be.

RELATED READING: Jayson Ademilola joins brother in return to Notre Dame in 2022, burgeoning Irish DL depth and experience

DOWN THE ROAD
Barring further injury — and a slight meniscus tear bears no correlation to a bothersome shoulder, so no one should label Ademilola as “injury-prone” — Ademilola should hear his name in next year’s draft. His 2022 will very much determine how early.

A season with half a dozen sacks and undeniable explosiveness could move him into the second day. A season merely as good as 2021 would likely keep Ademilola in the fourth- or fifth-round. But either way, he has long shown he is a strong starter on a top-10 program in the country. That pedigree alone warrants drafting.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77* Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65* Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59* Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle

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    Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

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    Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

    ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

    “One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

    Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

    His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

    He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

    That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

    Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

    Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

    That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

    “I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

    Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

    In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

    Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

    For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

    He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

    The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
    Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

    Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

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    Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

    Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

    The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

    Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

    Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

    His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

    While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

    If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

    RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
    Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
    Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

    CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

    Notre Dame v North Carolina
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    Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

    “Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

    “In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

    Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

    Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

    Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

    A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

    His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

    With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

    In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

    “You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

    There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

    HART CAREER STATISTICS
    2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
    2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
    2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

    Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Notre Dame at USC
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    There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

    USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

    “We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

    Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

    “USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

    If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

    Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

    And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

    The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

    Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

    Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

    Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

    Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

    But it was, regardless.

    His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

    If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

    Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

    The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

    Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.