Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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52 SEPT. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T he oldest starting — or co- starting — lineup ever in Notre Dame football annals might be a primary staple of the 2020 season. By old, we are speaking not nec- essarily about age but of class year. Also, we are omitting the years prior to 1950 because of the circumstances with age back then. The late-1940s Notre Dame foot- ball dynasty had a roster laden with World War II veterans such as Col- lege Football Hall of Fame inductee Jim Martin, a Bronze Star recipient who enrolled as a 22-year-old fresh- man in 1946, after World War II, and was 25 as a senior. Another Hall of Fame inductee, running back Emil Sitko, was 26 his senior year in 1949. It was quite prev- alent throughout college football in that era with the GI Bill. However, when breaking down the 22 potential starters on offense and defense this year, the age factor is unique in its makeup. GRADUATE TRANSFERS The Fighting Irish have a school- record four graduate transfers this season: wide receiver Bennett Skow- ronek (Northwestern), safety Isaiah Pryor (Ohio State), cornerback Nick McCloud (North Carolina State) and kicker Dawson Goepferich (Brown). For the season opener versus Duke Sept. 12, Skowronek and McCloud both were penciled in as starters. Both also were team captains at their respective previous schools last year before injuries resulted in a medical redshirt. Skowronek had caught 110 career passes, more than the entire Notre Dame roster entering 2020 combined. McCloud had started 19 games, more than the rest of the current secondary combined. The experience of Skowronek and Pryor in Big Ten strength and condi- tioning programs was demonstrated when in physical skills tests they graded out prior to preseason training camp with the highest scores among the Fighting Irish receivers/tight ends and defensive backs, respectively. For example, sophomore All-Amer- ica candidate Kyle Hamilton scored in the 750 range, while Pryor eclipsed 1,000, per head coach Brian Kelly. Meanwhile, Skowronek barely edged out junior Kevin Austin (now sidelined with a broken foot) while amassing close to 1,200 points. TAKING THE FIFTH — AND SIXTH To our knowledge, cornerback/ nickel/safety Shaun Crawford is the first player to enroll at Notre Dame as a freshman (in 2015) and receive a sixth year of eligibility. He started eight games last season as a corner- back, but this preseason he surpris- ingly won the starting position at strong safety, vacated by the gradu- ated Alohi Gilman. Meanwhile, six fifth-year seniors were projected in the starting lineup for the Duke opener, with four on offense: quarterback Ian Book, wide receiver Javon McKinley, left tackle Liam Eichenberg and right guard Tommy Kraemer. This is the first time in Kelly's 11 seasons he will have a third-year starter at quarterback, and he will be protected by a line that has 114 career starts — the most ever by a returning unit at Notre Dame. Defensively, Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji are slated to start at the two end spots as fifth-year seniors. When one includes graduate trans- fers Skowronek and McCloud, plus sixth-year player Crawford, among the fifth-year starters, that raises the total to a school-record nine. The caveat is a large volume of fifth-year starters does not ensure success if the rest of the team, chem- istry or coaching is amiss. COMING OF AGE Notre Dame's 2020 team has seniority not previously seen Sixth-year senior and starting strong safety Shaun Crawford is among the many graduate and senior starters on offense, defense and special teams who make the 2020 Notre Dame team perhaps the most seasoned overall unit in the program's history, or at least since 1950. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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