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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame's Young Talent Progressing, Freeman Addresses Short-Term Questions

April 16, 2023

Notre Dame will wrap up Marcus Freeman’s second spring as head football coach later this week and it’s been one filled with plenty of storylines to this point. 

Yet, it’s also not been an overly dramatic spring as most of the question marks the Irish look to answer won’t be known until multiple games into the season. 

There were also a few answers provided to short-term questions during Freeman’s press conference on Saturday following a scrimmage held inside Notre Dame Stadium. 

Receiver Kaleb Smith transferred to Notre Dame for his final season after a productive career at Virginia Tech, but he had been missing from the practice field. On Saturday, Smith announced he would be retiring from football to focus on his mental and physical health. 

“He's retiring from football,” said Freeman “We wish them all the best. It was what's best for him. And ultimately, as a head coach, that’s all I care about is he made the decision that this is probably what's best for him to retire from football.

“I think he put out a statement. He went into details on the reasons why, but we wish him all the best, and we're grateful for the time we have with him and wish him the best moving forward. So, with that, I'll open it up for any questions you might have.”

During the last practice viewing, early enrollee cornerback Christian Gray did not practice and junior linebacker Prince Kollie was not present.

Both players were injured and while Gray’s spring is done, Freeman hopes to get Kollie back this week for the Blue-Gold Game. 

“Christian had a knee scope last Thursday, so he'll be out for the remainder of spring,” explained Freeman. “And then Prince Kollie is still in concussion protocol. It happened last week, last Saturday, I think. So, I hope to get him back this upcoming week and try and get some more reps out him for Saturday, but he's in the concussion protocol.”

And for those who question if Kollie is hurt after some have stated he was missing from practice because he was likely transferring, it doesn’t seem like a concussion would be something for a head coach to lie about in relation to a player. Sure, all head coaches are going to be vague when talking about a sensitive situation, but a concussion isn’t something to put on the record, especially given Kollie missed time during fall camp last year with the same injury. 

Now, does that mean Kollie will stay or go? No. But it’s safe to say he wasn’t missing practice because he is entering his name in the portal. 

Speaking of the linebackers, Notre Dame returns its starting core in JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau, but it seems like the room is becoming deeper with the emergence of Kollie, Jaylen Sneed and Nolan Ziegler. 

Freeman seemed pleased with the growth of his linebackers this spring on the field, but also understanding where they fit into the rotation. 

“That’s the beauty and sometimes the difficulties of a team sport is that you have really good players all in one room,” Freeman stated. “Only one, two, at certain positions three can get on the field at a time. You have to build that trust and that unselfishness in that room while also developing their skill set. It’s a really challenging thing to do as a position coach, which I’ve been in that position.” 

Defensive coordinator Al Golden will be tasked with getting the younger backers on the field in the fall and he made it clear it will happen as they’ve earned more playing time. 

“The three you just mentioned are going in the game, there’s no doubt about it,” Golden explained. “They’re all in the rotation. PK was having a really good offseason until he got banged up. Sneed made a lot of progress as well. It was great to see Sneed back out there. Zieg’s off the field approach in terms of his preparation and studying the game has made a big difference for him.”

Notre Dame’s signed its best receiver class in a long time in December and three enrolled early to go through spring football. Rico Flores Jr., Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James have all flashed this spring, but offensive coordinator Gerad Parker wasn’t about to put more pressure on them by stating they would be ready to contribute in the fall. 

That said, Parker made it clear all three have had a productive spring. And the fourth signee, Kaleb Smith, was on campus this weekend to watch practice. 

“You know, no need to put pressure on those guys,” Parker explained. “They'll put enough on themselves and this place does that because of expectations. They're right where they need to be. All of them show great promise. They're eager and they're figuring it out. And that takes a little bit of a bumpy road that Coach Free talks about but the guys are here, they're eager and they both show, they all three show great promise moving forward.” 

Wes & Willy Navy Notre Dame Fighting Irish Floral Volley Swim Trunks

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