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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11 ⅝, 183 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Bryan has all four years of his eligibility remaining after appearing in only the Georgia Tech rout last season.Depth Chart: Neither Bryan nor Arkansas State transfer Blake Grupe was particularly impressive this spring, leaving some doubt as to who will lead the way in placekicking duties, but Grupe likely has the slight edge thanks to experience. Regardless, Bryan should handle kickoff duties for Notre Dame.Recruiting: Bryan’s recruitment was a case study in pandemic recruiting. He was committed to Colorado for the longest time, not only wanting to go to Notre Dame, but also knowing the Irish wanted him. They just did not know if they would have space for him. It was not until the NCAA created some flexibility amid scholarship limits — specifically, that fifth-year kicker Jonathan Doerer would not count toward the maximum of 85 scholarships in 2021 if he used the year of eligibility added by the pandemic — that then-special teams coordinator Brian Polian could tell Bryan there was space for him at Notre Dame.

Bryan subsequently wasted no time in flipping his commitment.

Current events shed more doubt on the viability of an NIL collective based around NFTs, an endeavor that fills nearly all of Bryan’s recent social media activity. But in his Twitter bio, he still touts Chris Sailer Kicking, the position-specific coach and summer camp that Bryan credits for some of his success, as do many collegiate kickers.

If Bryan still sees fit to push that version of his player profile, it continues to reason there is some version of a partnership in which he can more aggressively advertise for Chris Sailer Kicking.

Bryan kicked the final PAT of the home season in 2022, following Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s memorable fumble return for a touchdown. Notre Dame pulled Doerer after it amassed a 38-0 first-half lead. Harrison Leonard kicked the next PAT, and then Bryan got his brief turn, though Doerer hit a 26-yard field goal between those point afters.

That was Bryan’s only appearance in 2021.

Notre Dame chasing Grupe could be taken as a criticism of Bryan’s readiness, but new Irish special teams coordinator Brian Mason had something broader in mind as he filled out his specialists depth chart after arriving this winter. When he joined Marcus Freeman’s staff, Mason had only four specialists rostered, including two long snappers. He wanted more than double that.

“We needed some more experience,” Mason said in February. “We needed some more competition to be able to offset at certain positions where we were a little bit inexperienced, having to replace a starting kicker and a starting punter. How can we be able to add some experience and some leadership in addition to some competition in different areas where we’re still talented, but maybe young?”

“Polian said it in no uncertain terms. He does not want to rely on a freshman kicker, and will not rely on a freshman kicker. The last time the Irish deployed a freshman kicker in any respect was Doerer’s freshman season, in 2017. His tendency to botch kickoffs nearly severed the Polian-Brian Kelly working relationship before it had a chance to genuinely begin.

“Bryan probably does not have that same tick in his form, but he may have some tick in his form. Taking the 2021 season to suss it out will be an exercise in caution and proactive coaching.”

Bryan went 0-of-2 in the Blue-Gold Game, missing from both 48 and 37 yards, while Grupe went 1-of-2, neither of their final impressions before the summer layoff anything but lackluster. When Grupe is dialed in, he has proven to be accurate, and that should give him the first crack at the placekicking duties when leg swings actually matter. But if he falters, Mason will turn to Bryan. That was part of bringing in Grupe, after all; competition can cut both ways.

More likely, Bryan will be called upon for one or two particularly long field goal attempts this season, having a stronger leg than Grupe. That is also why he should handle kickoffs.

A year ago, Brain Polian was more than reluctant to play a freshman at kicker. Not all that much has changed for Bryan, but it can only change by getting on the field. Those long field goals and kickoffs are the first gradual step toward that change.

Grupe cannot play past this season. Walk-on Harrison Leonard entered the transfer portal, quite probably in part because of Grupe’s arrival. That will leave Bryan in 2023.

Mason may once again go portal hunting to beef up his depth chart — that said, wanting 8-10 kickers, punters and long snappers does seem like overkill — but it would take routinely frustrating practices from Bryan for Mason to actively look to keep him at No. 2 after this season.

All that said, if Marcus Freeman intends to follow up the hype around his promotion with on-field success, kicking woes will not be tolerated. Obviously, Bryan cannot dissuade those worries until he has done so on Saturdays, but he will need to all the same, be it in 2022 or 2023.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anewNo. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transferNo. 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

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