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Kyle Hamilton opts out of the Fiesta Bowl, ending Notre Dame career

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Navy at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 06: Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Kyle Hamilton (14) looks on during a team huddle during a game between Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Navy Midshipmen on November 6, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Notre Dame junior safety Kyle Hamilton has opted out of Notre Dame’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, as widely expected. Hamilton announced the decision early Friday afternoon.

“To my coaches: You have not only developed me into a better player, but a better man as well,” Hamilton wrote on Twitter. “You all have changed me for the better in ways that I could not have imagined coming into my freshman year. Thank you for believing in a skinny kid from Atlanta.”

Hamilton suffered a knee injury during Notre Dame’s 31-16 win over USC on Oct. 23, which then-head coach Brian Kelly described as a “pinched fat pad.” The initial timeline for a return ruled Hamilton out through the regular season.

While unable to play, Hamilton, one of this year’s team captains, wore an earpiece during games to remain involved on the sideline.

Head coach Marcus Freeman addressed Hamilton’s situation on Monday during Freeman’s introductory press conference, the day after the final College Football Playoff rankings were released with the Irish sitting at No. 5.

“His health is the No. 1 importance for any decision we make,” Freeman said. “Whatever is best for him and whatever is best for his health, I am going to support. We have not had that conversation, we have not made a decision, he has not made a decision.”

Hamilton may have played in the Playoff, but with the Irish headed to the Fiesta Bowl, Hamilton’s return immediately seemed much less likely, which was confirmed Friday.

That means the next time Hamilton sees game action will be in the NFL. He is projected to be a top-10 draft pick in April. Being selected that early would make Hamilton the highest-selected defensive player out of Notre Dame since Bryant Young went No. 7 overall in 1994.

Through his three years with the Irish, the Atlanta native racked up a long list of awards and achievements, a tenure that began with a statement performance in the 2019 home opener against New Mexico his freshman year. In that 66-14 win, Hamilton returned an interception for a touchdown on his first defensive snap in Notre Dame Stadium.

Over the next two and a half seasons, Hamilton drew national attention for his stellar football acumen and speed. He finished the 2019 season with 41 total tackles, four interceptions and six pass break-ups. In 2020, he led the team in tackles with 63 total and 51 unassisted. In the 2021 season opener, Hamilton notched two interceptions in a game for the first time in his career and had made 35 tackles before the knee injury.

Hamilton received multiple All-American honors after the 2020 season. As for 2021, he was an Associated Press Midseason All-American and was named a Walter Camp First Team All-American on Thursday despite missing most of the season.

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.

tweet to @carolinepineda_