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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game Semifinal Game - Notre Dame v Alabama

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 01: Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Litchfield Ajavon (23) warms up prior to the College Football Playoff Semifinal Rose Bowl Game between Notre Dame and Alabama on January 1, 2021 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot ⅛, 198 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: A junior, Ajavon still has four seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Notre Dame has been looking for a complement to star Kyle Hamilton for a couple seasons now, and at no point has Ajavon established himself as a viable option at field safety. Instead, seniors Houston Griffith and DJ Brown competed last year and this spring for the honor of starting opposite Hamilton. Unless Ajavon can leapfrog one of them, he may continue to look for his first competitive defensive snaps.Recruiting: The four-star and No. 9 safety in the country chose Notre Dame instead of Clemson, Georgia and Michigan, to name a few.

This is why these players deserved — these players needed bigger platforms.

Ajavon has yet to record a statistic aside from playing in six games across two seasons. In fact, his only defensive impression came in the Blue-Gold Game this past spring, impressing enough to be one of the names remembered from that spring finale. He finished that May afternoon with four tackles and two notable pass breakups, continuing a springtime theme.

It is not a particularly encouraging sign for Ajavon that even this past spring, when there was a starting job up for open competition, he did not warrant much conversation.

“Those guys get better throughout the spring,” Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman said in mid-April, lumping the upperclassman Ajavon in with some freshman.

After his Blue-Gold Game showing, one that earned comparisons to the springtime legend Junior Jabbie — a Blue-Gold Game star that never translates to the fall — even Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hardly delved into the performance.

“I thought Litchfield made some nice plays,” Kelly said simply enough.

Those spring indicators may not be what Ajavon would want the focus on, but they are remembered for reason. He is unlikely to crack the safety rotation this year, yet again.

That leaves special teams duties for Ajavon, quite likely a full 13 games of them. The Irish have turned over some of their stalwarts on coverage units, creating vacancies for someone with hitting instincts like Ajavon’s.

If he does break through on defense, the spring highlights of him around the ball will have been the harbinger of his possibilities. Repeatedly Ajavon was shown deflecting or intercepting a pass, similar to his Blue-Gold moments, but practice stars do not inherently make Saturday starters.

DOWN THE ROADUnless Ajavon breaks through in 2021, a 2022 transfer seems likely. Notre Dame recruiting has restocked the position the last two cycles, and either Griffith and/or Brown may return in 2022, anyway. And at his current rate, Ajavon would have as much experience heading into the 2022 season as a current high school senior would.

Ajavon would presumably have his degree by the end of the spring semester and should be able to find more playing time at a Group of Five school with three years of eligibility remaining.

Sometimes undersized safeties do not translate at the next level, and that may end up the case in Ajavon’s recruiting, despite his lofty rankings. That is simply the nature of the numbers game.

Finding a multi-year career at a Sun Belt or MAC school — the two Group of Five conferences closest to Ajavon’s hometown of Baltimore — should hardly be considered a disappointment. It is called the Fun Belt for a reason, after all.

Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 38 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 37 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, junior linebacker
No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter
No. 25 Philip Riley, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back
No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker, onetime pandemic hero

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