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Notre Dame 99-to-0: Let’s try this again

Braden Lenzy

“Let’s try this again.”

To steal a line from a wedding-turned-anniversary party invite recently received, let’s try this again. The annual series of “Notre Dame 99-to-0” never got far off the ground last year, just like that couple’s June wedding plans, for all the obvious and frustrating reasons.

A summertime content staple, the series (and seasonal weddings) does more than filling the calendar. At least, it is intended to. “Notre Dame 99-to-0” is intended to offer a refresher of each player’s career thus far and of what to expect moving forward. (The wedding, to reunite friends flung far by time.) As often as not, this countdown to the season via descending jersey numbers becomes a reference point later in the year, whether it be after a transfer, an unexpected rise up the depth chart or an injury. (More of this can apply to weddings than expected. The reference points become when you met a friend’s significant other, met some intrigue on the dance floor or tore the pants on the groomsman suit you were wearing for the first time. Those are akin to a transfer, a rise up the depth chart and an injury, right?)

There was enough *everything else* dominating our time and attention in the 2020 season to not need those refreshers or reference points to stay busy, but the hope is that stops being the case in 2021, ideally before Labor Day Eve (123 days). If we can be so lucky, then the sense of normalcy of day after day after day of player recaps (and Mondays hungover after wedding weekends) can also ease the content calendar back into its usual rhythms.

There will, of course, still be acknowledgments of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly while awaiting a Notre Dame plan on fans in the stands next season and when discussing the eligibility morass (understandably) created by the universal waiver in 2020.

The exact slotting of the profiles has yet to be established — a real sense of normalcy around here includes this scribe procrastinating most every task — but it will begin tomorrow with No. 99, sophomore defensive tackle Rylie Mills, one of only a handful of players to be profiled last year before things ground to a true halt for five months. In a few days, No. 97 will be up, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle Gabriel “Volkswagen” Rubio, and this space is determined to make that nickname stick by the end of the summer.

The series will end with the first No. 0 in Notre Dame history, senior receiver Braden Lenzy, hence the rebranding to “99-to-0" from “99-to-2.” To already summarize Lenzy’s entry, he had an impressive peak in 2019 with 454 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns, but the Irish desperately need that to no longer be Lenzy’s peak after 2021.

Beginning May 7 (tomorrow), there are 87 days until the week of Notre Dame’s first preseason practice. The Irish are allowed a maximum of 87 scholarship players in 2021 — the usual maximum of 85 plus pandemic exceptions for fifth-year defensive tackle Kurt Hinish (No. 41) and fifth-year kicker Jonathan Doerer (No. 39), separated for these purposes by fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter and likely captain Drew White.

Some exact scheduling needs to be figured out yet. Should senior punt returner Matt Salerno be included because he might reprise that role in 2021, offered an excellent Twitter clip this spring and is the jumping-off point for a longer punt return conversation? Should senior long snapper Michael “Milk” Vinson be included because a few national games in 2020 demonstrated how vital that role can unexpectedly be? Until the incoming freshmen have numbers, what placeholders should be assigned?

But those wrinkles can wait until No. 65 or No. 29 come along in the coming months, respectively, and no incoming freshman will pop into the roster listing before No. 96.

Similarly, should certain doubled numbers create days with two articles to therefore vaguely wonder what will be the most impactful number? No. 52, worn by both junior center Zeke Correll and senior linebacker Bo Bauer? No. 17, as in both sophomore defensive end Jordan Botelho and Wisconsin graduate transfer quarterback Jack Coan? No. 3, two embattled veterans in senior safety Houston Griffith and fifth-year receiver Avery Davis? Or will junior running back Kyren Williams make No. 23 the most impactful number all on his own no matter what junior safety Litchfield Ajavon does or does not do in 2021?

No offense to junior cornerback Cam Hart or junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey, but 2021 does not look like a typical Notre Dame year when the Nos. 5 and 7, respectively, rival No. 3 for greatest impact. (Files away the story idea of trying to figure out how that trend began, fully realizing the answer has undoubtedly been lost to the decades.)

Some exact scheduling needs to be figured out elsewhere, as well. If the typical interim between a wedding ceremony and reception is suitably filled with one bar, how many breweries can be hit before a first-anniversary party replacing a reception? If the now-married couple is providing two nights of an open bar, but you already were somewhat thoughtful last summer, is a gift still anticipated? Does my suit still fit?

It’s nice to consider the problems of old anew. Let’s try it all again.

“Notre Dame 99-to-0” begins tomorrow. Let’s make it a goal to break just one norm and write ahead before heading to that party in San Diego next month.

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