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Notre Dame Football

Kyngstonn Villiamu-Asa is No Ordinary Freshman LB

April 16, 2024

It’s been a decade since a true freshman played a significant amount of snaps at linebacker for Notre Dame.

Due to an injury to Joe Schmidt and previous issues recruiting the position, Nyles Morgan ended up playing 374 snaps in only seven games. He wasn’t ready to play yet, his 41 snaps the next season back that up, but they didn’t have much choice. They were starting a former walk-on and he was the next man in.

It’s safe to say that times have changed.

The depth at the position is far better than it was 10 years ago. This 2024 Notre Dame team doesn’t have a Jaylon Smith, but they appear to have as many as five linebackers who can play this season who will earn snaps because of their talent and not out of desperation.

It’s good to have options and one of those options is early enrollee Kyngston Villiamu-Asa. He arrived at Notre Dame with impeccable credentials.

Ranked 38th in the 2024 ISD Fab 50, he won just about every award imaginable as a star defender at St. John Bosco (California) last year. He was the LA Times Player of the Year, the high school Butkus Award winner, and the co-defensive player of the year in the Trinity League.

From that perspective, it’s not a surprise that he has turned heads in his very first spring ball at Notre Dame. Even though his talent is obvious, he didn’t step into a situation that would make it easy for him to compete. Sixth-year senior Jack Kiser is the highest graded returning linebacker in the country according to PFF. Drayk Bowen is also a former high school Butkus Award winner. Jaylen Sneed is a former 5-star recruit who is in his third year in this defensive system. Jaiden Ausberry was a former blue-chip recruit and Under Armour All-American.

Bowen and Ausberry may be inexperienced, but they also have a full year head start on Villiamu-Asa. He’s right there with them competing, though, because he’s physically and mentally beyond most freshmen.

Even at the start of spring practice, it was obvious that KVA is different.

“Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa- every once in a while you see a freshman and say he’s going to have a chance early,” Marcus Freeman mentioned after the first day of spring ball. “I can see that with Kyngstonn.”

KVA has continued to grow from there and when asked about the linebackers a few weeks later, All-American safety Xavier Watts admitted that “Kyngstonn has been catching my eye a lot.”

He has impressed everyone, including his position coach.

“Kyngstonn, he's been great,” linebackers coach Max Bullough said. “He's been able to process information. Physically, he's there. Physically, he came in, he's 230 or whatever. He's able to handle the physicality part of it. But the way he's been able to process information, take the installs or the sheet of paper to the field, has been, quite frankly, pretty impressive.

“So, it's put him in a position, where if he just keeps chugging along, day in and day out, like I said, we’ve got a competitive room. We've got four or five guys, six guys, that are vying for playing time. He's right in the mix, and he's fighting every day. He's fighting every day. He's doing what a freshman is supposed to do.”

Kiser was called a “computer machine” by Watts earlier this spring because of his knowledge of Al Golden’s defense. This is Kiser’s third year playing in it. He spent two years playing in Clark Lea’s scheme and another in Marcus Freeman’s.

Kiser marveled at Villiamu-Asa’s ability to pick up a defense that is far from simple.

”When you come into a new program, a big program like Notre Dame, you come into a defense like Coach Golden’s defense, which isn’t easy even for a junior or senior, you’re still learning stuff,” explained Kiser. “To come in, be able to pick it up and go out on the grass and performance execute, that’s a big deal. It goes to show how well he’s prepared in high school.”

KVA had the benefit of playing in an advanced scheme at St. John Bosco under defensive coordinator Chris King. King has been the DC there for 15 seasons, but has implemented pieces from college programs like Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia. Most freshman linebackers are graduating from “see ball, get ball” in high school. That isn’t the case with Villiamu-Asa.

“It’s funny. He mentions doing some of the stuff in high school and how mature he is at such a young age to be able to comprehend everything, take the coaching and not make the same mistake,” Kiser said. “It’s really pleasing to see. It’s great for an older guy like me when I can give this guy pointers and not feel like I have to hold anything back just because he won’t get it, which he does, so it’s really fun to be able to help coach him and mentor him.”

Working primarily with the second team in Saturday’s jersey scrimmage, KVA also earned some reps with the first team defense as well. He’s been a standout amongst all the freshmen this spring and he’s been praised by people throughout the program.

Golden is included in that and described why KVA has put himself in a position to compete.

“He's on track to,” Golden said when asked about KVA contributing on more than special teams. “He's an exceptional learner. He spends a lot of time at it. He really, really works hard at it. And he's got a pro's mentality, meaning to that day, he comes ready to go on the material that is being covered that day.

“And when it comes day after day, that's what helps him stay ahead of it. And so, he's ultra-competitive. He's got size. He's got lateral quickness. He can blitz inside. He can play the edge if we need him to do that. So, he's doing a great job. I mean, he's really attacked the spring, and we'll see where it goes from there.”

We saw a small sample of him lined up on the edge in the scrimmage. On the final series of the day, the coaches had him out there on a third down play. The defensive line ran a stunt with KVA looping inside for a sack. He was fired up and so were his teammates.

Notre Dame has plenty of good options to rush the passer off the edge on third downs. Making a play like that keeps him in the conversation to play there this fall.

“Kyngstonn (Vilamu-Asa) and (Jaylen) Sneed have both shown the ability to be able to rush the passer from the line of scrimmage. Jaylen did it last year, but Kyngstonn has shown the ability to do that,” Freeman stated in his post-scrimmage press conference. “Is he one of the top four? That’s to be determined, but he's had a heck of a spring and he's done a really good job, just from the moment he's gotten here to where he's at now and he's going to help us this year.”

True freshman linebackers rarely see the field in college football. Only 11 from Power 5 programs played 300 or more snaps last season and about half of those were under similar circumstances to Morgan’s in 2014.

Notre Dame’s linebacker depth chart is different in 2024. Villiamu-Asa is also not an ordinary freshman. If he has a big role this fall, it’s going to be because he earned it.

He’s already on his way to doing that. By the time he’s finished at Notre Dame, we might be mentioning him in the same sentence as Manti Te’o, Jaylon Smith, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

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