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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame DL Jacob Lacey Faced Adversity in 2020 to Shine in 2021

November 11, 2021

The last year hasn't been easy for Jacob Lacey as the Notre Dame interior defensive lineman has battled through plenty of adversity on and off the field. 

It started in 2019 at Michigan as Lacey injured his shoulder on the second to last play of his night, which caused him to miss the next two games. 

Fast forward to 2020, 6-foot-1, 275-pounder almost lost his father, David, to COVID-19. It was a situation where the elder Lacey made some difficult calls, including one to defensive line coach Mike Elston to make sure Jacob graduated from Notre Dame. 

Lacey would get COVID twice and miss time due to contact tracing, but it was torn labrum in his shoulder that he fought through in the fall of 2020. 

The Kentucky native should have opted for surgery and called it a year, but he forged on as Notre Dame was in the middle of a playoff run. 

Yet, Lacey turned 2020 into a positive and no longer sets 4:30 a.m. alarms to head to rehab as he did last fall.  

"I'd be lying to say it wasn't frustrating going through that year and battling through that injury," Lacey said. "I'm glad I did and didn't stop playing. I've grown a tremendous amount from that and it allowed me to drop weight and focus on getting muscle." 

Lacey is now healthy and has shown he can be a difference-maker as he's made critical stops, including a fourth down stop against Wisconsin. 

"I rehabbed and focused on things that I should have done before coming to college," explained Lacey. "I'm very happy to be healthy now. I had the ankle thing, but I'm 100 percent with that. Every opportunity I get on the field, whether it's four plays or 20 plays, I know I can make a play to help the defense." 

Heading into his junior year, Lacey dropped 20 pounds to get to 275, which has allowed him to stay healthy outside of the sprained ankle he suffered against Virginia Tech. 

"The biggest thing was the injury aspect," Lacey stated. "I always had a twist here or a turn there, whether it was an ankle or shoulder. Since losing weight, I feel better, faster and I've gotten much stronger from it. I've put on more muscle and I'm really glad I did that." 

Lacey didn't get spring ball as he recovered from labrum surgery, but good health has allowed his game to grow despite missing those 15 practices. 

"Honestly, the biggest thing I've worked on is the punch off the ball," explained Lacey. "I've always been able to rip and get off blocks. Having the shoulder issues that caused me not to be as great at that and to be healthy, I feel my number one strength is getting off the ball and defeating double teams. 

"I can really be a stoner in the run game. I think that's where I've grown the most." 

Notre Dame's defensive line came into its own against Navy as the Irish held the Midshipmen under 200 yards of total offense after showing flashes earlier in the year. 

"It's a matter of finally playing as a unit," Lacey said. "We have great players from the first guy to the third guy. Playing from the front to the safeties to the linebackers, we have guys who can make plays and who have been waiting to make plays." 

Clark Lea used a three-man front frequently a year ago, but Marcus Freeman has had to use it probably a little more than he'd like as injuries have decimated the back seven. 

Lacey and his fellow defensive linemen know the pressure is on them to make plays in three-man fronts and it comes down to desire.

"Three-down, it's all about the motor you have," stated Lacey. "Some guys have 1-on-1s and some guys don't. It allows the guards and tackles to double and do different things, but if we do our job and continue to get after the quarterback and don't stop rushing, you'll get there." 

Pass rush will be crucial for the Irish this weekend as Notre Dame heads to Virginia. The Cavaliers boast the nation's No. 2 passing game and even if stater Brennan Armstrong doesn't play, Lacey knows it starts with the defensive line getting pressure. 

"You have to switch it up facing a team that throws the ball 40 times versus four times a game," Lacey said. "That won't stop us from getting the quarterback and helping out guys in the secondary. We have to do our part in the pass game too. We look forward to that." 

And the key to that pressure is making sure everyone is on the same page before the snap. 

"The key is communication," said Lacey. "Communication, doing your job perfectly and knowing where you need to be in every defense. Playing for your brothers and your brotherhood is really what it comes down to. We're not going to change what we do." 

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