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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback

Notre Dame Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - MAY 01: Braden Lenzy #0 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches the football against Caleb Offord #21 and Isaiah Pryor #10 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Blue-Gold Spring Game at Notre Dame Stadium on May 01, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 5-foot-11 ½, 176 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: An early-enrolled freshman, Mickey has all four seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: Mickey impressed this spring to such an extent it is easily conceivable he could be the backup to either senior Cam Hart or junior Clarence Lewis this fall.Recruiting: The southern California native was sought by plenty of programs in the Pac 12, but chose Notre Dame over Oregon, Cal and Northwestern just two months after Marcus Freeman had begun as the Irish defensive coordinator.

Despite considering Oregon and Cal, Mickey’s focus on midwestern academic programs like Notre Dame and Northwestern made it clear early in his recruitment that he had an interest in leaving home for college.

“Definitely going far away from home can develop you as a young man, being away from your parents — you can’t just drive home on the weekends to go see them,” he said this February, about a month into that experience as an early-enrolled freshman. “It definitely builds some structure in living your life on your own.”

Of course, Mickey could have left home and still enjoyed better weather than he was facing in northwestern Indiana in early February, but he insisted the South Bend winter was hardly as worrisome as advertised.

“I’ve loved it out here so far,” he said. “It’s not as bad as everybody makes it seem. You still see the sun. People make it seem like you’ll never see the sun, it’s going to be sad.

“But you still see the sun. It snows a lot, it’s cold, you wear a couple jackets and it’s all good.”

Mickey is smartly branding himself early, before most Notre Dame fans even know who he is. Establishing himself in that regard will eventually lead to a uniform line of apparel and perhaps a few more sponsorships.

For now, features only sponsorships from a couple trainers.

More interesting than those acknowledgments of Ballers Elite, Rharebreed and Dawg Houze, Mickey also blogs on his personal website every couple months. He does not go elaborately in-depth into his life, but that bit of voice will, again, help him capitalize on his name, image and likeness in years to come.

“Mickey prefers to play man-to-man coverage, which makes him an ideal fit for Freeman’s scheme, but at only 6-foot, he likely will work as the field (wide) cornerback, rather than work along the boundary. …

“Mickey’s active hands will further his fit in Freeman’s aggressive scheme. Not only are they capable of picking off quarterbacks, they often disrupt receivers’ routes in his highlight film. …

“If Mickey’s talent translates at the collegiate level, there is little reason he could not crack the Irish rotation in 2022. Notre Dame has its starting cornerbacks in Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis, but little else is certain in the Irish secondary at the moment.”

Rarely can certainty accompany a freshman’s playing time, but for Mickey, there is no doubt he will play in 2022. Freeman has made that clear, both specifically in regard to Mickey and in general about playing freshmen.

“Jaden Mickey, he came in the winter and after 3-4-5 days ‘That dude’s going to play,’” Freeman said to Irish Illustrated this summer.

Notre Dame needs him to. The Fiesta Bowl faceplant emphasized the growth the Irish need from their cornerbacks, and while much of that should come from Hart and Lewis developing, some of it will come from newcomers — namely, Mickey.

Even if it was not a position of need for Notre Dame, playing talented freshmen is an absolute necessity in modern college football. With frustrated players now able to transfer elsewhere and have immediate eligibility, rewarding them on the field is more vital to roster construction than ever. Even if a talented player should not start because someone else is better ahead of him, finding him chances to shine will help keep him on campus for years to come.

“I want to make sure they’re ready, but the ability to play freshmen is so important, because it’s two-fold,” Freeman said to Inside ND Sports. “One, we’re going to demand that our players play at such a high level, give such a high effort, you’re going to have to play more than 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense. You’re going to have to roll guys in. …

“The other aspect of that is to make sure that they’re involved in the game. They come here to play. If they’re ready to play, let’s play them.”

Mickey is ready to play.

Keeping in mind that defenses use five defensive backs more often than any other alignment, there will be opportunities for Mickey. Furthermore, and this is going to be blunter than intended simply for brevity’s sake, fifth-year nickel back TaRiq Bracy has been played off the field in at least one game in at least three of his seasons. If another such afternoon begins to get away from Bracy, Mickey may find himself with a heavier workload for a week.

RELATED READING: Marcus Freeman’s strategy for protecting the ND football rosterSpotting an instant impact freshman: “Some guys have it” says Marcus Freeman

Mickey’s competitive edge is a solid foundation for any cornerback, and his quick hands will propel him to early playing time, but he will need broader development to usurp either Hart or Lewis before their careers conclude. They each have three seasons of eligibility remaining, though Hart probably will not play through a sixth season.

Bracy, meanwhile, will finish his career this season. Mickey may slide right into the nickel role in 2023, essentially a starting gig, if not one that will lead to a start tally every week.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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