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Notre Dame Football: Jalen Elliott’s rise from afterthought, to possible captaincy

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With a strong work ethic, and the light bulb going on, Elliott can cement his legacy during his senior year.

Jalen Elliott notre dame
Jalen Elliott
Mike Miller/One Foot Down

Brian Kelly isn’t ready to name the captains for the 2019 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team (another 4-6 weeks), but senior safety Jalen Elliott certainly is among those under consideration for the honor / responsibility.

That’s a long road traveled by the former 3-Star prospect from Virginia.

As a freshman in 2016, Elliott appeared in all 12 games for the Irish. It was a rough season for the Irish, and they had 7 freshmen defensive backs to throw out to the wolves to see how things went. As far as the safety position was concerned, Jalen and Devin Studstill received the most reps of the group. In fact, it was Studstill that stood out the most with 38 tackles and an interception while Elliott tallied just 13 tackles.

Ball State v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In 2017, the Irish defense got a shot in the arm with the arrival of Mike Elko as the new defensive coordinator and safeties coach. While the defense improved quite a bit, the safeties went all 13 games without a single interception. Elliott started every one of those games and logged 43 tackles for the year. He did, in professional terms, “okay.” At one point that season, Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister said on their podcast that Jalen Elliott looked as if he didn’t have any idea what was happening on the field. I wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment.

2018 saw another major change for the Irish defense (basically its third in as many years). Mike Elko left Notre Dame for the Texas A&M Aggies, and linebacker coach Clark Lea was promoted to defensive coordinator. The Irish then went out and hired Terry Joseph away from the North Carolina Tar Heels to coach the safeties.

Some had Elliott pegged as the starter, but as fall camp rolled along in 2018, Jalen Elliott appeared to have lost his job to senior, Nick Coleman. Oddly enough, that didn’t seem to surprise anyone, and at any rate — we were all obsessed with Alohi Gilman at safety. Gilman had to sit out all of 2017 after transferring from Annapolis where he was an all-conference player for the Navy Midshipmen. According to just about everyone (including Irish coaches) Gilman would have easily been a starter during the 2017 season if the NCAA would have granted him that waiver.

Things took another twist late in August when Shaun Crawford went out with another knee injury. Crawford was the starter at nickel, but with him now done for the year, Notre Dame turned to both Nick Coleman and freshman Houston Griffith to fill in for Shaun. While Coleman had been talked about as a possible starter at safety, Griffith’s name was also being mentioned more frequently.

Re-enter Jalen Elliott as the starter at safety.

Even with Elliott retaining his job amid a cloud of uncertainty, there wasn’t a whole lot expected from him as the Irish kicked off the 2018 season. Elliott started the entire season and ended up with 67 tackles and a team leading 4 interceptions for the year. His two interceptions against the Ball State Cardinals were the first picks by an Irish safety since Devin Studstill’s lone pick in 2016.

2018 was a breakout year for Elliott, and the fact that he was able to shine so brightly alongside Gilman’s standout year just made it all the more impressive.

Now as we race towards the 2019 season with no captains in place, Elliott stood out in workouts and in spring ball. He was a SWAT team leader, and has made himself an extremely important part of the defense and the team. Even if Elliott isn’t selected as a team captain for 2019, there’s no doubt that he will be a leader out there on defense — and the team.

Elliott’s ascendancy has been remarkable — even more so when you look back at how it all came about. I believe that putting a “C” on his chest is a no-brainer, and in time, would benefit the team and the season.

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