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Justin Ademilola’s return gives Notre Dame 2022 defensive line a veteran start

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 01: Spencer Sanders #3 of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys throws the ball past Justin Ademilola #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Play Station Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame’s 2022 defensive line will have at least one veteran piece returning. Senior defensive end Justin Ademilola announced Wednesday evening he will return for a fifth year with the Irish.

Ademilola technically has two years of eligibility remaining, thanks in part to playing in only four games as a freshman and in part to the pandemic universal eligibility waiver, but his strong showing in 2021 provided a touch of reason to consider heading to the NFL. He finished second on Notre Dame with five sacks, appearing in all 13 games and making 35 tackles. Only Isaiah Foskey’s 11 sacks outpaced Ademilola.

Ademilola has played in 37 games across four seasons, including every game in the last two seasons. His moments of note go back to his freshman year, though, when the Irish coaching staff managed Ademilola’s four-game allotment so he could be available in the College Football Playoff, a blowout loss in which Ademilola was one of few Notre Dame players who looked like he belonged on the field against Clemson.

Foskey’s eventual 2022 decision will directly impact Ademilola, but this decision should not be considered a precursor to Foskey’s. Ademilola’s NFL possibilities this year could be greatly enhanced with a year of even more quarterback pressures. With Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa wrapping up his Irish career — well, presumably, as this is where those universal waivers get complicated, since the fifth-year end could technically return for a sixth season, but there has been absolutely no indication that is under consideration — Ademilola should be assured of a starting role at one end position.

But if Foskey is no longer in South Bend, Ademilola could become the starting Vyper end, more of a starring role in Marcus Freeman’s scheme, which should remain largely unchanged even with the defensive coordinator now the head coach.

Ademilola’s return may also be followed by his brother, defensive tackle Jayson. That announcement should come yet this week, as well. Jayson has more of an NFL case at the moment than Justin, perhaps extending this decision timetable.

Entering the final week of the regular season, this reporter scribbled out a list of about a dozen Notre Dame upperclassmen, thinking that if more than half of them returned to South Bend in 2022, that could elevate the roster from quite talented to outright very good and probably make the Irish a top-10 team again. Those thoughts never reached publication because of the whirlwind that followed within 48 hours of Notre Dame winning at Stanford, but those dozen names were, in no particular order …

Receivers Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin, running back Kyren Williams, offensive linemen Josh Lugg and Jarrett Patterson, safeties DJ Brown and Houston Griffith, linebackers Bo Bauer and Isaiah Pryor, and defensive linemen Justin Ademilola, Jayson Ademiloa and Isaiah Foskey.

To date, four have announced plans to return in 2022, while only two are headed to the NFL to date.

Some names may be more important (Patterson, Foskey) than others, but the point remains valid.

NFL-bound with eligibility remaining: Safety Kyle Hamilton, running back Kyren Williams, receiver Kevin Austin.Returning after pondering the NFL: Receiver Braden Lenzy, safety Houston Griffith, offensive lineman Josh Lugg, defensive end Justin Ademilola.Expected to transfer out: Safety Khari Gee, linebacker Shayne Simon, punter Jay Bramblett, linebacker Paul Moala, offensive lineman Quinn Carroll, cornerback Caleb Offord.

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