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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL

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, 312 pounds
2023-24 year, eligibility: A senior, Keanaaina has three years of eligibility remaining, since the universal pandemic eligibility waiver meant a subsequent season, Keanaaina’s three-game 2021, could count as his traditional eligibility-preserving foray.
Depth Chart: Keanaaina has been jumped by at least three players younger than him among the defensive tackles, and that could be four if sophomore Donovan Hinish surges in the preseason. Keanaaina looks more and more like a depth piece for Notre Dame but little more.
Recruiting: The Irish beat out Nebraska, Wisconsin and Cal to pull in the No. 30 defensive tackle in the class, per A four-star prospect from Colorado and the son of a former Colorado State player, Keanaaina also mildly considered the Rams.

The day will come when the 52-0 rout of South Florida in 2020 is forgotten in this space, but as long as players persist on the roster that enjoyed that day as their first showings on a college football field, that day will not be today. And it is a win worth remembering, both because it gave an excuse to think back to the memorable marathon against the Bulls in 2010 and because Notre Dame entered that 2020 day severely shorthanded due to a coronavirus outbreak in the locker room, yet rolled to a shutout victory, anyway.

That was Keanaaina’s only appearance as a freshman before three games in 2021. He made one tackle that year, coming in the Fiesta Bowl faceplant against Oklahoma State. A severe ankle sprain in August nixed a possible bigger role as a sophomore.

Last season, Keanaaina returned to making just one appearance, and that much was a surprise. Kenaaina tore his ACL at the start of 2022’s spring practices, so making it back to the field to notch three tackles in the 44-0 shellacking of Boston College was impressive on its own.

A year ago this week, Keanaaina announced a sponsorship with a ukulele company. He was not the first Polynesian on the Irish roster to have a knack for the ukulele — some vivid memories of the late Kona Schwenke joyfully stalling media interviews come to mind — but he was the first to be able to advertise for such a company.

Add a smoothie company and a scooter to Keanaaina’s endorsement profile. Given he is a reserve outside the two-deep who has made four career tackles, Keanaaina reaping the benefits of multiple NIL deals and improving his quality of life is a testament to how impressive NIL work can be without any aspect of it needing to be outlandish. Every player can benefit in reasonable ways, not just the top players as critics long insisted.

“He’s fully healthy now,” Irish defensive line coach Al Washington said this spring, mostly an endorsement of anything that may have lingered with Keanaaina’s torn ACL. “He’s working in at the nose position. We’re pretty deep there. He’s part of the depth. Working at it, getting himself going.

“That group, the tackles group, the tackles and nose combination, I think we have a chance to be pretty stout in there. So he’s doing well.”

“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.”

There was some winter speculation that Keanaaina’s knee injury, Boston College cameo aside, may cost him the rest of his Irish career. A solid spring and attrition across Notre Dame’s roster have scuttled those vague thoughts.

But Keanaaina is still unlikely to see significant playing time in 2023. Fifth-year Howard Cross will lead the way, and his career has been a testament to durability, a tradition he seems to have picked up from Kurt Hinish. And then some combination of juniors Gabe Rubio and Jason Onye, and sophomore Tyson Ford are all now ahead of Keanaaina in demanding playing time on the interior.

Looking back at the last two seasons, the sixth Irish defensive tackle was … Keanaaina. And it is hard to justify boosting his playing time given Onye, Ford and Hinish need the game reps to ready themselves for increased action.

If that speculation existed this year, a season with little impact will not better Keanaaina’s chances of a fifth year in South Bend. In fact, that would be an outright surprise.

Some may look at a four-star not developing into a significant asset as a failure by the program, but an ACL injury on a 300-pound player is a difficult rehab to navigate, and that process created a window for multiple players to leapfrog Keanaaina. In that respect, having those players on hand and improving was a success by the program.

If healthy in 2022, perhaps Keanaaina would have thrived in the defensive two-deep. That will obviously never be known.

Returning for the 2023 season should set up Keanaaina for a degree, and given that handful of endorsements, he is clearly already putting his head to good use.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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