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Leftovers & Links: Steve Angeli’s, Jadarian Price’s spring star turns forecast differing Notre Dame futures

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game

Apr 23, 2022; Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Jadarian Price (20) carries in the first quarter of the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Every spring football game includes an unexpected star. The question then becomes, was that merely a moment of exhibition glory or something sustainable that could lead to Notre Dame’s next fall contributor?

Of the two early-enrolled Irish freshmen that shined Saturday in the Blue-Gold Game, it was likely some of both.

Quarterback Steve Angeli will not rise up the depth chart any higher than No. 3 barring injury or a quite unexpected transfer. That should rule out any dreams of 2022 accomplishments, but his last-minute composure to win the game for the Gold Team, 13-10, does at least give some confidence that Angeli will not roll over in quarterback competition to come with whomever Notre Dame secures in the class of 2023.

Meanwhile, running back Jadarian Price will have a chance to chip in right away, despite the other Irish backfield options. That much should have been clear as soon as Gold Team coach and running backs coach Deland McCullough drafted Price before junior running back Chris Tyree.

“I think it was shown in the draft what my thoughts were for him,” McCullough said. “We had the opportunity to do some different things (in the draft). I thought JD was doing a great job during the spring, wanted to see how he would respond being the primary guy. He did a great job.”

Price finished with 12 yards on nine rushes, hardly that notable, but also added 104 yards on eight receptions, including a 51-yard touchdown on a delayed screen pass from none other than Angeli. Junior safety Ramon Henderson should have had the angle to knock Price out of bounds, but Price’s top speed proved too fast.

It was far from the first time Price flashed this spring.

“I was very confident,” he said. “Some of the things I did over spring ball turned a lot of heads. I’m glad I had the support behind me, keep pushing me along the way.”

It took a few practices for Price to realize he could handle the game at this level, but one full-contact hit from senior linebacker Marist Liufau knocked reality into Price.

“I got my first welcome to college football experience when Marist hit me in practice. That really prepared me, this is real.

“I’m going to go out and show what I can do.”

There will assuredly be another “welcome” moment for Price in the fall, be it at Ohio State in 130 days or against BYU on Oct. 8 in Las Vegas. The when of that moment is especially vague because it is hard to anticipate when the fourth-string running back will be needed. And no matter how good Price looked Saturday, he remains the fourth back on the Irish depth chart.

Tyree and sophomore Logan Diggs can debate over who holds the top spot, but Price overlaps with their skill sets too much to play him more than sophomore Audric Estime. The latter’s strength adds a needed aspect to the group, assuring him a spot in the rotation no matter how impressive Price has been.

But the backfield as a whole should set up Notre Dame for a dominant running game in 2022. Having Price as the fourth back underscores that likelihood.

“If you can play early, you’ll know quickly,” head coach Marcus Freeman said Saturday. “We saw that with him. He understands the big picture, he gets the playbook. The transition wasn’t too big for him.”

Freeman naming McCullough and defensive line coach Al Washington as the scrimmage’s head coaches served a few functions. The most obvious one, the one discussed after Wednesday’s draft, was Freeman giving two Black assistant coaches a chance to be the faces of the program.

But he was also giving them a chance to tangibly envision what they both openly dream of. McCullough, in particular, chose to remain at Notre Dame despite NFL overtures after his initial decision to join Freeman’s staff because he wants to become a collegiate head coach. As many assistant coaches over the year can attest — former Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston comes to mind — sometimes they cannot become head coaches without having head coach experience, a frustrating catch-22 that leads to many retread hires throughout the sport.

So for the better part of a week, Freeman gave McCullough and Washington some feeling of what it is to be a head coach.

“I embraced it big time,” McCullough said. “That was one of the things — it’s only the spring game, I get that — but it’s one of my ultimate goals. That and some other reasons [Freeman] had, it was a great opportunity to step up in a leadership position, just really command the room, get the guys on the same page, put together a plan.”

Maybe “doomsday” is a bit harsh, but Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick painted a pretty pessimistic view of college athletics’ future in an interview with Sports Illustrated published over the weekend. Most pointedly, Swarbrick outlines a timeline of college athletics splitting into two groups in the next 10-15 years, one group still tied to education and one group tied to education in corporate branding only.

Swarbrick certainly understands the college athletics landscape better than anyone around here, but the idea of prognosticating anything that far into the future boggles comprehension.

For all we know, this world may be teetering on Mad Max: Fury Road status by then.

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s defense ahead of its offense, but all carry competitive energy into the summerFour-star tackle gives Notre Dame its first offensive lineman commit in 2023

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