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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Senior CBs Lewis, Hart take on Pivotal Roles in 2023

August 17, 2023

The Notre Dame cornerback room entered fall camp to significant fanfare and the hype has grown since. It’s a position group that boasts more than just top-end talent. 

Coach Mike Mickens says he feels comfortable throwing six different cornerbacks into the game due to the emergence of three key underclassmen: Ben Morrison, Jaden Mickey and Christan Gray. 

While the Fighting Irish cornerbacks of the future may receive most of the press, seniors Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart will serve as the backbone of this room.

Swiss Army Knife

A low-ranked, three-star recruit, Lewis shocked just about every recruiting analyst by starting in six games as a true freshman, including Notre Dame’s 2020 College Football Playoff semifinal appearance against Alabama. 

He started all 13 games in 2021 but lost the job once Morrison broke out as one of the best cornerbacks in college football late last season. 

Lewis’ won’t be a full-time starter with Lewis and Hart back, but his role as the secondary’s Swiss Army Knife is vital to a defense that wants to be able to incorporate six defensive backs on the field.. 

This fall, he’ll dabble at nickel, corner, Aztec (big dime) and even safety. 

“C-Lew is very competitive, and he’s very smart,” Mickens said. “That’s something a lot of people don’t see in him. That’s what’s great about him. We can make sure he can go inside, outside, back deep. It doesn’t matter. He knows he’s in every position. That allows us to have some flexibility with it.”

Lewis assumed nickel responsibilities once TaRiq Bracy suffered an injury toward the end of the 2022 season.

“I love to learn,” Lewis said, “and learning it gave me more skills as a DB.”

This fall, Notre Dame will employ both Thomas Harper and Lewis at nickel, likely favoring one of them more than the other depending on the matchup. 

“They both give you a lot,” Mickens said. “Harp has shown great quickness, great coverage ability. He’s really good in the slot, understanding leverages. C-Lew is more physical – not more physical than Harp – but just physicality on the point of attack and over those bunches. He still understands the coverages, schemes, where he can drop into coverage. 

“The nickel position is really good because you have those two with (different) strengths.”

During practice on Wednesday, Lewis lined up as the first-team safety opposite Xavier Watts. 

Lewis may simply be a safety option against Navy’s triple-option offense, or perhaps he could become a regular rotation member. Only time will tell. 

“It’s pretty fun getting to move around,” Lewis said. “It adds more things to my game, honestly. I like it all.”

Captain Hart

On Sunday, Notre Dame announced its four 2023 captains: Sam Hartman, Joe Alt, JD Bertrand and Hart.

“I still haven't even taken it in yet. It's surreal,” Hart said. “My journey here has been long, and it's been different than a lot of my friends and the guys are here. Just to get that respect of my teammates and my coaches and the guys in my room and the defense, it’s special.”

With multiple young corners expected to play this fall, Notre Dame’s Hart’s veteran presence should help everyone play consistently. 

For instance, each of Notre Dame’s top five cornerbacks got beat in one-on-one reps on Wednesday.

While it may be a sign of the wide receivers stepping up, Hart knows the room must held to a higher standard.

“I feel like we're very talented, and that goes without saying,” Hart said. “But throughout camp, we’ve kind of slipped up on the small details of things. I think, especially the younger guys, just reminding them every day to focus on the small details, being disciplined, especially during weeks like this where we're playing Navy. It has to be the most disciplined game we play all season.”

More than anything, Hart wants to be there for the entire team — not just the cornerback room — as they go deal with the pressure and emotions that accompany a Notre Dame football season.

“Shoot, they probably know what they're getting from me already,” Hart said. “I'm not the most vocal guy, but when I need to be, I can be. I pretty much lead by example, always doing the right thing, or at least trying to do the right thing and being that other ear for the younger guys just to come to if they're going through something. 

“We always give the senior talks during camp, and I let them know straight up I was once in their shoes.”

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