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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 02: Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive back Justin Walters (22) rushes on the punt coverage team during a college football game against the Cincinnati Bearcats on Oct. 2, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot ⅝, 188 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Walters has all four seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: In the short term, Kyle Hamilton’s injury last season was troublesome for Notre Dame. In the long run, it helped the Irish develop future safety depth, though perhaps at Walters’ expense. Experimenting without Hamilton led to the rise of now-juniors Ramon Henderson and Xavier Watts. Along with the incoming transfer of Northwestern’s Brandon Joseph, Henderson’s and Watts’ progress knocked Walters down to the third-string.Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect and the No. 37 safety in the class, per, the Chicagoland product considered plenty of Big Ten schools.

Walters appeared in four of Notre Dame’s first five games last season, all on special teams, before he then preserved a year of eligibility. While he made three tackles in those appearances, that usage pattern suggests the Irish coaching staff was on the fence about playing him the whole season in September, eventually opting against it, perhaps due to their musings about Henderson and Watts. Neither was practicing at safety that early in the season but those moves were logically already being considered by then-defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.


“(Brian) Polian, also the special teams coordinator, went so far as to describe Walters as a “fast riser” when it comes to special teams work. If Walters becomes a primary contributor on Polian’s coverage units, then that alone may push him past the four-game threshold, and that in turn could elevate him in the safety rotation.

“Hamilton is unlikely to come off the field until the Irish are up by three touchdowns, and senior Houston Griffith is competing with senior DJ Brown to serve as Hamilton’s primary running mate, so the safety rotation will not run deep, but Notre Dame will win games by three touchdowns — this space is routinely hinting these days at a prediction of two blowouts in the first three weeks — and Walters may be the beneficiary of those routs.”

Notre Dame may not have a safety like Hamilton anymore, a luxury few teams ever enjoy, but the Irish have a glut of possible contributors along the defensive back line. In addition to Joseph, Henderson and Watts, fifth-year veterans DJ Brown and Houston Griffith have been trading playing time for a few years now.

All five of them may be ahead of Walters on the depth chart, keeping his defensive work to a minimum this season.

His early-season cameos on special teams last year, however, bode well for larger such roles now. Notre Dame will not need to rein him in to preserve eligibility anymore.

Known as a hard hitter in his recruitment, Walters will get a chance to show that ability on kick and punt coverage units.

Brown and Griffith will certainly wrap up their collegiate careers this season. The earliest mock drafts suggest Joseph could be a first-round pick in 2023. Suddenly Notre Dame’s safeties room may be thin again.

Henderson should be a lead contender for one of the two starting roles in that scenario, but after him, the Irish will have plenty of space for competition. Even if Walters does not emerge as a starter — current class of 2023 commits Adon Shuler and Peyton Bowen are both good enough to warrant at least some preliminary consideration, as well — he should find a role in the rotation in 2023.

At that point, Walters will be halfway through his eligibility, one year behind both Henderson and Watts. It will thus become increasingly clear if he has a pathway to ample playing time at Notre Dame.

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. 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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