Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 6 Clarence Lewis, three-year starting cornerback

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 5-foot-11 ½, 193 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Lewis has three seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver essentially ignoring his 12 games played as a freshman when it comes to this conversation.
Depth Chart: Lewis will start opposite senior Cam Hart with a pile of unknown youngsters as their backups.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect and the No. 84 defensive back in the class, per rivals.com, the New Jersey-native was sought by the usual Northeast football programs, such as Temple, Rutgers and Boston College, but also by all the Power Five programs in the Virginias and chunks of the Big Ten.

CAREER TO DATE
If Lewis maximizes the usage of that universal pandemic eligibility waiver, he could end up breaking the Notre Dame record for career appearances, a record likely to be set by fifth-year linebacker Bo Bauer this year. Bauer has not missed a game in his career, having played in 51 to date. For Lewis to keep up with that pace, he’ll obviously have to enjoy similar durable fortune.

Lewis started the second half of his freshman season, replacing Tariq Bracy at field cornerback, and Lewis stuck there throughout 2021, as well.

2020: 12 games, 6 starts; 33 tackles, seven passes broken up and one forced fumble.
2021: 13 games, 13 starts; 53 tackles with two for loss including one sack, five passes broken up, one interception (at Florida State) and one forced fumble.

Lewis’ interception came simply via being at the right place at the right time; Kyle Hamilton broke up a pass and the carom went directly to Lewis, who alertly snagged the ball as it soared over his helmet. (The fourth slide in the below Instagram post.)

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Notre Dame’s football program continuing to provide players with highlight clips from practices and even offseason workouts is a savvy move by the Irish, recognizing the importance of content for players’ personal social media accounts and helping buoy those platforms.

It also provides a look at Lewis this offseason, and — anecdotally — he certainly appears to be adding strength to his frame.

QUOTES
Lewis, along with the entirety of the Notre Dame secondary, was exposed in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl faceplant. Oklahoma State receiver Tay Martin found the end zone twice with Lewis in coverage.

Such is the life at cornerback. A bad afternoon turns into a horrid memory within just a few snaps.

And strong cornerbacks move on, as Irish cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens thinks Lewis has.

“Clarence is a confident kid,” Mickens said in April. “He doesn’t overly talk too much, but he’s very competitive. You can just tell by the way he goes to work every day, the way he grinds.

“Whether it’s the weight room or on the field, conditioning, it doesn’t matter what it is, he’s a competitive kid.

“I’m sure he took it personally and he’s back to it again. That’s what we want.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Raising the bar on Lewis’s impressive freshman year may seem ambitious, but the pandemic plays a role in the thought. For the most part, Notre Dame struggled to bring along new players and new schemes during the pandemic; there was only so much time to prep at all, let alone with enough people involved, so implementing new pieces was more difficult than ever. Yet, Lewis excelled.

“Add in some genuine strength and conditioning work, and perhaps Lewis can be even better. Add in the consistency of starting from the opener and expecting that each week, and perhaps Lewis can find some routine.

“The sophomore is one of two pieces in the Irish secondary that are assumed, the other obviously being star junior safety and preseason All-American Kyle Hamilton. New defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman values consistency in coverage — compared to varied looks up front — so much will be put on Lewis’s plate.

“He should be able to handle it. In fact, let’s up the ante. His interceptions in high school set Lewis apart. Anticipate at least two this season. …

“Lewis will need to show quick development to warrant conversation of him leaving after his junior year in 2022, a la Julian Love, but that may be the carrot to dangle in front of him. Love’s strong freshman season set the stage for a breakout sophomore year that nearly guaranteed he would turn pro as soon as he could.

“If Lewis finds the same trajectory, then Notre Dame will be quite pleased.

“It is more likely he ends up a four-year starter in South Bend, hardly something to shake one’s head at.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Rare is the cornerback not plagued by bad afternoons, and those moments linger in the public’s consciousness far longer than moments of success. Human nature creates fickle football fans.

For Lewis, those bad afternoons have been doubly frustrating as they were the final moments of each of his two seasons. Heisman winner Devonta Smith ran by him in the Playoff semifinal in 2020, and Martin’s second-half bonanza ended Lewis’ 2021.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame
(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Of his more than 1,200 career snaps — including 800-some last season, leading the Irish defense — losing one-on-one battles to a star like Smith or a fifth-year veteran like Martin should not erase the quality of the vast majority of those snaps. As Martin bullied Lewis throughout that second half, it was never that he had so beaten Lewis. Searching the Getty Images photo database for a photo of Lewis to place atop this article, the images all are engaging. Lewis was competing for each pass. Martin simply had better positioning on all but one of them.

Notre Dame could not roll over a safety to help Lewis, leaving him that half-step behind Martin throughout the second half, but it was hardly more than a half-step.

Lewis is a worthwhile starting cornerback for Mickens and new defensive coordinator Al Golden to work with. When — not so much an “if” — he gets beaten for a touchdown or two at Ohio State, his worthiness will not have genuinely changed.

A season with another half-dozen broken-up passes and a pair of interceptions will underscore Lewis’ ability, even if the season ends with Jordan Addison getting by him for a touchdown.

DOWN THE ROAD
Lewis would need a shutdown season to garner NFL interest after this year. Rather, expect him to weigh that thought after the 2023 season. Even then, it will be something he has to only ponder, not absolutely have to do. The Irish roster is likely going to squeeze out most possible pandemic-added years, but a proven and durable cornerback would be granted such an exception.

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. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
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
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, freshman cornerback
No. 18 Chance Tucker, sophomore cornerback
No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 17 Jaylen Sneed, early-enrolled linebacker, Rover of the future
No. 16 Brandon Joseph, Northwestern transfer, preseason All-American, starting safety
No. 16 Deion Colzie, sophomore receiver
No. 15 Tobias Merriweather, freshman receiver, forever a memorable recruitment
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, sophomore cornerback
No. 14 Bryce McFerson, freshman punter facing a Harvard challenge
No. 13 Gi’Bran Payne, freshman running back, late recruit
No. 12 Tyler Buchner, sophomore starting QB
No. 12 Jordan Botelho, a defensive end-turned-linebacker
No. 11 Ron Powlus III, sophomore QB providing steadiness to a chaotic room
No. 11 Ramon Henderson, junior cornerback-turned-safety
No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback
No. 10 Prince Kollie, sophomore linebacker, high school Butkus Award winner
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 9 Justin Ademilola, fifth-year defensive end, a backup in name only
No. 8 Marist Liufau, senior linebacker returning from a dislocated ankle
No. 7 Audric Estime, sophomore running back, No. 2 on the shortened depth chart
No. 7 Isaiah Foskey, defensive end on a record chase