One of the bittersweet things about being a college football fan is the inevitability of saying goodbye to some of your favorite players at the end of every season. It is, of course, entirely a good thing that players like Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah and Liam Eichenberg are moving on to bigger and better things, but there is still a sadness in knowing that we will never again get to see them suit up in an Irish uniform.
The upside of this is that every year provides a new opportunity to meet new players, watch them develop and grow on the field and come together as a unit. This is especially true in 2021; the 2020 Notre Dame Fighting Irish squad was populated by a high number of senior- and fifth-year players, particularly at prominent positions. This means fans are going to be introduced to a great many new names, and with recruiting and development where it is in the present era of Irish football, fans can be confident that they are going to like what they see. It’s time to leave behind the fear and the worries of years past and be confident in this team’s ability to reload rather than rebuild.
On the offensive line, Notre Dame has to replace four of its five starters from the last two seasons. The Irish, however, have been stockpiling talent at the position for years now. So where pessimists could see disaster waiting to happen, we could also see anticipation - finally getting to see players whose names we’ve heard for several years now finally get on the field and perform. I can’t wait to see Josh Lugg make a statement having finally become a full-time starter, and what Blake Fisher does in a rare true-freshman starting role. I look forward to seeing what other starters emerge from ongoing competitions, whether that’s Tosh Baker, Rocco Spindler, Zeke Correll or someone else entirely.
I’m also excited to see Avery Davis continue to grow into a star contributor after a long and transformative journey at Notre Dame. What are Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin going to do in a full season of action with significant roles? I don’t know, but I think we’re going to like it - assuming they can stay healthy. And I haven’t even mentioned Lawrence Keys, who it appears will finally step into a more prominent role after a couple years playing on the margins. These guys are talented, they have experience, and they are ready to step into the limelight - we should be excited to see it happen.
And yes, I am optimistic about the prospect of Jack Coan - who has seen great success quarterbacking a team with powerful offensive line and gifted running backs - at the helm of this offense. I’m excited to see what a guy who has shown he can throw the deep ball will do with the speed of Lenzy, Davis, Keys and Austin.
On defense, Notre Dame has talented players ready to stop in at every recently-vacated position - the only question is who it will be. Will it be Jordan Botelho or Isaiah Foskey crashing backfields in the place of Daelin Hayes? How many sacks will Jayson Ademilola get from the interior defensive line - and how much will Rylie Mills challenge him for minutes? How will Notre Dame’s large and talented corps of linebackers - many of whom have already shown themselves to be solid contributors - shake out? Will Houston Griffith or DJ Brown emerge as a standout on the back end alongside Kyle Hamilton?
You get the picture. Notre Dame has significantly upgraded its recruiting and development machines over the last few seasons, and we should all be excited to see the benefits of those changes at work. This is a sport where new heroes are minted every season; I can’t wait to see which ones come out of South Bend.