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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March

Navy v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 06: Aidan Keanaaina #92 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is seen before the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 6, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Keanaaina has four years of eligibility remaining, thanks to 2020 being covered via the universal pandemic eligibility waiver and then preserving another season by playing in only three games in 2021. That said, a player can still preserve only one such year by playing in four or fewer games.Depth Chart: Keanaaina may have been in the rotation at nose tackle this season if he had not torn an ACL in March, perhaps as well-established as the No. 2 nose tackle. Next year he will be back among sophomore Gabriel Rubio and perhaps freshman Donovan Hinish in competing to be senior Jacob Lacey’s backup.Recruiting: A four-star prospect, per, Keanaaina chose Notre Dame over Nebraska, Wisconsin and Cal, somewhat expected programs. The Colorado native also pondered Colorado State, where his father played.

A Polynesian having an affinity for the ukulele is not a surprise to anyone, but it has led to a benefit for Keanaaina in recent weeks.

Keanaaina has managed one tackle, in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State, in four career games.

“The pandemic cost every player differently — just like for the rest of us in everyday life — but it arguably cost many freshmen the most. While tight end Michael Mayer and running back Chris Tyree were able to contribute immediately, that was neither expected of Keanaaina nor viable. As written a year ago, he needed time in a collegiate strength and conditioning program. He still does.

“That work began this winter. It will continue this summer. But if all of 2021 is devoted to building Keanaaina’s lower-body strength, that can still be considered a productive season.”

Keanaaina essentially lost his 2022 with that ACL torn in the first spring practice. The fastest of recoveries from an ACL injury is about nine months. In that ideal scenario, perhaps Keanaaina could be readying for a bowl game, but that rush would also stress his physical conditioning coming back from that injury.

It is more likely his timing sets Keanaaina up to return for next spring practices.

RELATED READING: Keanaaina tears ACL
Notre Dame adds defensive tackle depth via Harvard graduate transfer

Harvard graduate transfer Chris Smith will be on Notre Dame’s campus for only the 2022 season, meaning a healthy Keanaaina should have every chance to slot back in as Lacey’s understudy in 2023. A senior as a backup may not seem glorious, but such is the luxury of defensive line becoming the best Irish position group in recent years.

Lacey will be out of eligibility after 2023, at which point Keanaaina will have two years of eligibility remaining. He will have competition — again, namely Rubio and Hinish — but that should yield only depth. Depth has been the exact delight that has kept players like Keanaaina buried a bit on the depth chart. In that respect, it can cut both ways.

Early in their careers, depth limits their opportunities. Later in their careers, it somewhat assures them.

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’

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