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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 4 Kevin Austin, always-hyped, rarely-seen senior receiver

Kevin Austin

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 27: Kevin Austin #4 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball in the 1st half against the Navy Midshipmen at SDCCU Stadium on October 27, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: A senior, Austin has three seasons of eligibility remaining, though typically speaking, Notre Dame’s academic side does not grant additional years to players who missed time due to disciplinary issues. That is not a blanket rule, and one that in this case may not come into effect until Austin’s sixth season, but it could be part of the conversation.
Depth Chart: If healthy, Austin will get every chance to start as the Irish boundary receiver, the position that boosted Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley into NFL prospects the last four years.Recruiting: The consensus four-star prospect and No. 88 overall player in the class, per, Austin chose Notre Dame over finalists of Duke, Miami and Tennessee and also received scholarship offers from Clemson, Michigan and Oregon.

Yes, yes it has been a minute. A minute and then some.

Traits, suspension and injury have dictated Austin’s career, rather than his much-discussed, occasionally-seen talent. He began auspiciously in 2018, appearing in 11 games and making five catches across them, his vertical threat forcing defenses to respect the freshman even when he was not being thrown to.

But something went awry late in the season, and Austin was left off the travel roster for the final two trips of the regular season, a hint of the “traits” issues that were still ahead of him, too.

Austin was suspended as a sophomore — or, more accurately since the University would never confirm the suspension, he did not play at all in 2019.

Then an offseason broken foot put Austin’s 2020 in doubt. It healed enough for him to play by October, only to then re-break it, cutting short his season and eventually costing him this past spring.

2018: 11 games; 5 catches for 90 yards.2019: DNP2020: 2 games; 1 catch for 18 yards.

Of the two concerns with Austin’s availability, his foot may now be the more dominant issue. The senior bought in on Kelly’s proverbial “traits” at some point during his 2019 suspension.

“Obviously coach Kelly instilling the traits in us and helping us really hone in on being a team and a family really brought me to where I am today,” Austin said in October of 2020 during his brief moment of full health.

Austin should be fully healthy or very near it when preseason practices begin this weekend. Kelly offered tempered optimism at a charity golf outing in early June.

“He will be modified, probably for another two, three weeks,” Kelly said. “But all of his x-rays look really good. We’re going to gradually work him into a running program. We’re not going to throw him right back out there and immediately with a lot of force out there. … We want to modify his running and get him back to health.”

Let’s first dispense with the conditionals: If Austin can stay healthy for the entire season, and if he remains clear of any off-field issues …

A player cannot usually go nearly four years between meaningful football reps and maintain the allure that Austin has, but every time he has been seen in practice (admittedly, that’s been a total of once in the last 23 months), Austin has impressed. Whenever a former Irish defensive back or receiver has left the program for the NFL, he has said Austin will be the next great Notre Dame receiver.

And yet, Austin has totaled six catches for 108 yards across three seasons.

The expectations could not be further from the results, and that makes furthering those expectations a logical misstep. Thinking Austin will catch 57 passes for 895 yards is a stretch bordering on unfathomable. Those numbers are not picked from thin air; that is the average of Boykin’s, Claypool’s and McKinley’s numbers as the lead receiver in the boundary role, with McKinley’s 12-game season stretched into a regular year of 13 games.

But Austin has not played meaningful amounts of football since 2017. Piling that workload on him, particularly after his foot broke twice in one season, may be aggressive and foolish. Reducing the always-high expectations is the reasonable thought, given Austin’s layoffs.

He will be Notre Dame’s top receiver; at the absolute least, Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees wants him to be. Pairing a complete receiver like Austin with sophomore tight end Michael Mayer would leave defenses miserably outmatched.

Austin does not need to be Claypool to enjoy that advantage. He simply needs to build toward that. Perhaps 35-40 catches for 500 yards would be the respectable showing.

DOWN THE ROADThat type of impact would eliminate any speculation about Austin’s future. If he explodes in 2021, then he may consider the NFL after just one thorough season, and given the nature of foot breaks, that would be the prudent choice.

But a strong-yet-not-stellar showing would place Austin on the Claypool path of a dominant final season in 2022. And while Notre Dame sometimes shudders at bringing back players who missed a season due to suspension, Austin also missed one due to injury, not to mention the pandemic’s impact.

It is unlikely he plays into 2023, but Austin may yet spend two seasons as the top Irish receiver.

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. 91 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
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. 83 Jayden Thomas, freshman receiver, four-star prospect out of Georgia
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. 55 Kahanu Kia, freshman linebacker, Hawaiian, LDS member
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. 47 Jason Onye, incoming and raw 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. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 32 Prince Kollie, freshman linebacker, Butkus Award winner
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 29 Khari Gee, freshman safety, former LSU commit
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
No. 24 Audric Estime, freshman running back, former Michigan State commit, four-star
No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety
No. 23 Kyren Williams, junior running back
No. 22 Logan Diggs, incoming freshman running back
No. 21 Lorenzo Styles, early-enrolled freshman receiver
No. 21 Caleb Offord, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, senior running back, coming off an offseason with a smirch
No. 20 Justin Walters, early-enrolled freshman safety and likely early special teams contributor
No. 20 JoJo Johnson, freshman cornerback, former Cincinnati commit
No. 19 Jay Bramblett, junior punter
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, senior defensive end
No. 18 Joe Wilkins Jr., senior receiver, team favorite
No. 18 Nana Osafo-Mensah, junior defensive end, coming back from a knee injury
No. 18 Chance Tucker, freshman cornerback
No. 17 Jack Coan, graduate quarterback, Wisconsin transfer
No. 17 Jordan Botelho, sophomore defensive end, full-speed at all times
No. 16 Deion Colzie, incoming freshman receiver with both speed and leaping height
No. 16 KJ Wallace, junior safety, possible starting nickel back
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 14 Kyle Hamilton, junior safety, preseason All-American, top 2022 draft prospect
No. 13 Paul Moala, senior linebacker coming off an Achilles injury
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, senior receiver
No. 12 Tyler Buchner, early-enrolled freshman quarterback, former four-star recruit
No. 12 DJ Brown, senior safety mired in a starting competition
No. 11 Ron Powlus III, early-enrolled freshman quarterback
No. 11 Ramon Henderson, sophomore cornerback with sprinter’s speed
No. 10 Drew Pyne, sophomore quarterback, likely No. 2
No. 10 Isaiah Pryor, graduate linebacker, 2020 Ohio State transfer
No. 7 Brendon Clark, junior quarterback with a knee worry
No. 7 Isaiah Foskey, star junior defensive end, Vyper
No. 5 Cam Hart, junior cornerback, expected boundary starter

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