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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter

Wisconsin v Notre Dame

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 25: Jack Kiser #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish returns an interception for a touchdown chased by Jack Dunn #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field on September 25, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Notre Dame defeated Wisconsin 41-13. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ⅝, 222 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A senior, Kiser still has three seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to preserving a year in the traditional fashion as a freshman and then having another year kept on the proverbial shelf thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver in 2020.Depth Chart: Kiser should be Notre Dame’s starting Rover in 2022, a nomenclature that dates back to Mike Elko’s arrival in 2017. The phrase “Rover” sticking around through four defensive coordinators underscores the increasingly ubiquitous nature of hybrid players in a defensive front-seven.Recruiting: By the common definition in the recruiting industry, a consensus three-star prospect is not widely considered a player that will start for multiple seasons at a Power Five Playoff contender. Kiser has far exceeded that projection. The one-time Mr. Indiana Football debated between the Irish and Purdue, not genuinely considering any programs from outside the state.

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Kiser dabbled in four games in his debut season in 2019, and he looked to be heading toward that role in a full season in 2020 before a pandemic outbreak along Notre Dame’s defense heading into its second game forced Kiser into a starting gig against South Florida. Earlier that week, he had been working on the Irish scout team.

“You always have to be ready,” Kiser said after receiving the game ball for making eight tackles with two for loss. “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.”

Kiser’s one-week cameo was exactly that, one week, but he still played in 11 games throughout the season and his impressive showing against the Bulls led to more playing time even when the regulars were around.

Both those regulars — Shayne Simon and Marist Liufau — were injured in 2021, as was Paul Moala, once again pushing Kiser into a starting role, this time more consistently. Kiser made the most of that time, finding the end zone against both Wisconsin and Georgia Tech.

2019: 4 games.2020: 11 games, 1 start; 20 tackles with three for loss and one interception and one pass broken up.2021: 13 games, 8 starts; 45 tackles with one for loss and two forced fumbles, two interceptions, two touchdowns and seven passes broken up.

Kiser is not one that asks for much attention, despite his on-field highlights. Nonetheless, the hashtag he puts alongside his social-media reels is one that could catch the eye of many Notre Dame fans on apparel. “Jackpot” could have some intriguing Irish tie-ins.

Kiser’s three-star recruiting status obviously tied to his physical attributes. He is not the fastest player on the field nor the biggest, but he does many things well. One could even call him … Don’t do it, Douglas … a jack of all trades.

Terrible and obvious pun aside, Kiser’s ability to both pressure a quarterback and drop into coverage could help him help new Irish defensive coordinator Al Golden’s push for further varied defensive looks.

“Be available on any given play,” Kiser said of a springtime emphasis. “For me, that’s learning the Mike (middle linebacker), learning the Will (weakside linebacker), learning the Rover, nickel if I have to. Anything and everything.

“That’s been the emphasis throughout the whole (linebacker) unit. Be that guy that can do everything. That makes you valuable on game day.”

“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. …

“The 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 likely will 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.”

The Irish enjoy linebacker depth these days, provided health. Kiser’s rise should emphasize that health among linebackers is not to be assumed. Behind Kiser, junior Jordan Botelho worked at Rover this spring in an endeavor to get him on the field more this year despite Notre Dame enjoying top-tier defensive ends. Botelho is too talented to not play more, and that may mean Kiser gives up some snaps, particularly on passing downs.

That is not a bad thing. Depth is only a good thing.

Kiser’s role will not go away. Botelho will offer a defensive wrinkle, not a replacement. A year of starts should be ahead of Kiser, and along with them 50 or so tackles. A pair of touchdowns may not be repeatable, but Kiser will be a notable piece of Golden’s approach.

Marcus Freeman’s one recruiting cycle as defensive coordinator led to three high-profile linebacker recruits. His first recruiting cycle as Notre Dame’s head coach has already led to the commitments of a pair of consensus four-stars in Drayk Bowen and Preston Zinter.

Kiser is far enough ahead of them all in experience and physical maturity that it is hard to envision him getting recruited over. Not to single out players, but that will be more a conversational topic for the likes of sophomore Will Schweitzer, a former defensive end recruit.

But as the roster fills with the recruits Freeman is chasing, the odds of Kiser sticking around through 2024 diminish. Kiser most likely plays a typical college career of a three-star-turned-starter, working from a redshirt to a fifth-year defensive leadership position before trying to catch on in some summer workout sessions in the NFL.

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. 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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