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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Notre Dame at Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - NOVEMBER 14: Boston College Eagles tight end Hunter Long (80) turns after a catch with Notre Dame linebacker Jack Kiser (24) and Notre Dame linebacker Drew White (40) in pursuit during a game between the Boston College Eagles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 14, 2020, at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ⅝, 227 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: A junior, Kiser still has four seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Kiser arrived at Notre Dame expected to work at Rover linebacker, but by the spring before his sophomore season, he was cross-training at Buck, where he saw moments to shine in 2020. If remaining at Buck, now referred to as Will linebacker, Kiser will need to compete with senior Shayne Simon, junior Marist Liufau and perhaps senior Bo Bauer for playing time. If, however, he moves back to Rover, Kiser could find himself in a starting competition with senior Paul Moala as Moala recovers quicker than expected from a torn Achilles.Recruiting: The consensus three-star prospect debated between the Irish and Purdue, hardly considering any options but those from within the state that named him Mr. Indiana Football.

Looking at Kiser’s tent in the final image (video) of this post, there may be a camping/lifestyle brand for him to pursue before next offseason. (The irony of the “No WiFi ... No Problem” caption is this article is being written from a restaurant parking lot because the nearby state park did not have strong enough cell reception to serve as an internet connection.)

Kiser appeared in four games as a freshman, a season limited by arriving at Notre Dame as an early enrollee with a torn labrum, but as a sophomore, he made a quick impact in the season’s second game when he went from scout team to starter the day of the South Florida game as pandemic protocols wiped out the Irish defense’s depth. His eight tackles, including two for loss, earned Kiser that weekend’s game ball.

“You always have to be ready,” Kiser said after that defensive shutout despite missing eight usual contributors. “On scout team, your goal is always to make it up and get to the next level, so when (I) found out, it was just a mentality, let’s go.”

When Simon and Liufau returned to the lineup following a brief Notre Dame pause in football activities, Kiser returned to a reserve role, but one now trusted enough to chip in on the rotation.

2020: 11 games; 20 tackles, including three for loss, with one interception.

RELATED READING: Down a handful of players, Notre Dame bull rushes South Florida

Kiser could not have received more praise after that South Florida victory, deservedly so considering the chaos that was that week for the Irish, but moving forward, a pandemic blowout will drift from memory as Kiser works to find playing time.

This spring, every mention from new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman or head coach Brian Kelly suggested Kiser will play at Rover this year, a position Freeman intends to use nearly as versatilely as his predecessors did.

“Jack is an extremely intelligent individual,” Freeman said in mid-April. “He works and works and works and studies. He’s athletic, he’s physical, he makes a lot of plays. He’s done a great job.

“We’re trying to move him around. We’re trying to move that Rover around, so you don’t always know where he’s going to be aligned. At the end of the day, the guy has to be a disruptive edge setter, he has to be a guy that can play in coverage.”

With Moala sidelined due to injury — though it bears repeating, he has recovered from the Achilles faster than would be expected and may be full-go this preseason — Freeman and Kelly would cite Kiser as in competition with graduate student Isaiah Pryor, but of the two, Kiser has shown much more on Saturdays than the Ohio State transfer, though the latter may be more naturally gifted.

“Jack’s learning the position, because he doesn’t have a ton of experience out there,” Kelly said in mid-April. “What we like about Jack is (he’s) extremely athletic, even in space, and just a guy you enjoy coaching because he is a guy that is always around the building trying to pick up more time to watch film and meet with Marcus. That progression is one where we just love working with him.

“You can see his improvement, he’s around the football. Certainly I think there’s some things in the pass game that we have to continue to work on. He doesn’t have the elite speed to play the slot receiver 1-on-1, but we can do a lot of other things with him in terms of blitzing him, zone coverage, things of that nature.”

Kiser’s 2021 may depend on Moala’s health, and as much as Kelly insisted throughout the spring that the local product was ahead of schedule as he returned from one of the worst injuries that can befall an athlete needing explosion to excel, maybe some skepticism should insist on seeing Moala at full speed before believing it.

Perhaps Kiser handles the bulk of the Rover work through September and then Moala rotates in once a full year removed from the injury in October.

Whatever that timetable ends up being, Kiser should be a part of Freeman’s plans. His spot duty in 2020 was too thoroughly consistent to be ignored moving forward.

That may produce two dozen tackles and a handful of pass breakups, a solid step forward for someone who was on scout team before a coronavirus outbreak threatened to halt Notre Dame’s season a year ago. “A handful of pass breakups” may sound optimistic, but as much as Kelly acknowledged Kiser’s shortcomings in coverage, he did make an interception last season and then another with style this spring.

DOWN THE ROADThe Irish have built reserves of linebacker depth such that Kiser will need to compete for playing time every season he remains in South Bend. That is a good thing for the program and nothing but an encouraging challenge for Kiser.

Moala will likely be around through at least 2022, furthering those position competitions.

At some point, Notre Dame will need to trim linebackers. At the absolute least, before Kiser has exhausted his eligibility in … 2024. The coming and growing scholarship crunch will leave no other option.

Kiser will continue to contribute as long as he wants to keep playing, but in 2023 or so, that may need to be elsewhere, through no fault of his own.

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

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