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Notre Dame Football

Sophomore Jump?

January 22, 2024
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We didn’t get deep into the 2020 football season before realizing that Kyren Williams was special.

In the first half of his first career start against Duke, he took a screen pass for 75-yards. He finished that game with 205 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. It was just the beginning of two highly productive campaigns for Williams at Notre Dame.

His 2020 season was a unique one and it wasn’t just because of the circumstances under which the games were played that fall. It was different because he became one of the rare individuals to start in his second year in the program for the Irish.

From 1994-2011, Notre Dame won 10 games in a season only twice. They’ve averaged over 10.4 wins per season since 2017 and only failed to reach double digit wins once during that span. They’ve won a lot of games with help from a lot of talent. On those winning teams, it hasn’t been common for underclassmen to become full-time starters as sophomores. Williams is one of 16 in the last seven seasons.

Nine of those players have entered the NFL Draft and nine of them have been selected. Joining Williams are Julian Love, Robert Hainsey, Jarrett Patterson, Aaron Banks, Michael Mayer, Kyle Hamilton, Chase Claypool, and Daelin Hayes. The others who haven’t been drafted yet are Joe Alt, Blake Fisher, Benjamin Morrison, Jayden Thomas, Logan Diggs (transferred), Audric Estime, and Clarence Lewis. Lewis is the only one of those who is unlikely to be selected in the NFL Draft as of this moment.

That would make 15 of the 16 who will eventually be NFL players.

Not being a full-time starter in year two isn’t necessarily a bad sign for a player’s future. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Tommy Tremble, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and many others weren’t who became impact players. But if a player does earn the distinction of being a starter early in his career at a program like Notre Dame, it’s pretty much a lock that they’re going to be very good at the bare minimum.

There’s a handful of second year players for the Irish who look to be in a position to compete for starting jobs this season. It won’t be easy for them to earn those spots, which is another reason why it would be a significant development if they do.

Jaden Greathouse

Greathouse came out of the gate on a heater with two touchdowns in the season opener and 12 catches in the first five games. A hamstring injury set him back and other injuries forced him to move to the boundary.

He didn’t get rolling again until the Wake Forest game where he had a 48-yard catch and run touchdown. He showed exactly the kind of player he can be when healthy and he’s only going to be better as a sophomore.

Notre Dame’s wide receiver situation heading into 2024 is a lot better than it was last fall. Kris Mitchell and Beaux Collins are transfers who have produced at their previous programs. A healthy Jayden Thomas could end up being a huge factor in the offense and there’s also Jordan Faison and his exciting potential as well.

If Greathouse ends up being a starter, it’s because he’s ready to take a leap as a player.

Christian Gray

Benjamin Morrison might be the best cornerback in the country. No one is better at locking up receivers on the boundary.

The competition at cornerback will be to the field where Cam Hart was situated. The next in line there is Jaden Mickey, who has played a lot of football in his first two seasons and played pretty well in 2023 in his opportunities.

Gray did as well and he looks like a rising star who might be too dang good to keep off the field.

Gray will play. A lot. He could end up being the starter opposite Morrison and he’ll have to beat out a good player to do so.

Adon Shuler

It’s probably more likely that Shuler is fighting for that third safety spot than being a starter in the base defense. That’s the way things are trending after the Irish were able to add Rod Heard II as a transfer from Northwestern. As of right now, he’d be the odds on favorite to start with Xavier Watts at safety.

That means if Shuler is to win a starting job, he’ll have to beat out a player who has over 2,000 career snaps. No one said it would be easy, but if it happens, the discussion about Notre Dame’s next star at safety could start this fall.

Charles Jagusah

There’s no argument that Jagusah’s path to playing time is a lot more clear than other sophomores because of Joe Alt and Blake Fisher leaving early for the NFL. Even without that, Jagusah might have fit into the category of being too talented to not find a spot up front.

Right now he’s the heavy favorite to be Notre Dame’s starting left tackle in week one against Texas A&M. If that happens, he’ll join Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Robert Hainsey, Alt, and Fisher as starting tackles to open their second seasons. That’s pretty good company to be included with.

Drayk Bowen

The reports on Bowen as a freshman linebacker were glowing in terms of his ability to pick up the defense as well as his physical maturity. That combined with opportunity in year two could lead to him being the signal caller on defense this fall.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how things shake out at the position this spring and in fall camp. Can Jaylen Sneed make the leap as an every down player? Is Jack Kiser better suited to play Mike or Will? Will any of the other young linebackers do enough to disrupt the order of things?

We’ll have to wait and see if someone like Jaiden Ausberry is ready to be a factor or if Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa is the kind of special player who can start as a freshman. Heading into spring, Bowen seems like a safe bet to set himself up as a multi-year starter for the Irish.

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