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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 11 Alohi Gilman, senior safety

Michigan v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 01: Zach Gentry #83 of the Michigan Wolverines fails to complete a pass in the second quarter as Alohi Gilman #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defends at Notre Dame Stadium on September 1, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10 ½, 201 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: A senior, Gilman has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.Depth chart: Though he missed most of spring practices out of precautionary concerns (abductor strain), Gilman remains an unquestioned starter alongside senior Jalen Elliott.Recruiting: A low-profile recruit from Hawai’i, Gilman headed to Navy when the military understanding was service could be deferred for professional athletic possibilities. When that changed, Gilman sought out a home at Notre Dame.

Gilman first caught Irish attention when he racked up 12 tackles in a Midshipmen victory against Notre Dame in 2016. That highlighted a freshman season complete with 12 starts in 14 games.

The NCAA denied a waiver request, sidelining Gilman for 2017 as a transfer before he became an impact player last year.

2016: 14 games, 12 starts; 76 tackles with five for loss; five pass breakups and two fumbles.2018: 13 starts; second on the team with 95 tackles including three for loss, two interceptions with five pass breakups and three forced fumbles.

Gilman led the Irish with 19 tackles in the Cotton Bowl, one of few players who looked like they truly belonged on the field against Clemson.

Both his interceptions came against Syracuse, letting linebacker Drue Tranquill off the hook for a pass interference call that negated what would have been Gilman’s first collegiate interception against Stanford.

“I was thinking, does he have an interception this year? I was actually thinking that this week,” Tranquill said after that victory against the Orange with some relief in his voice. “I was like, if he doesn’t get one this year, that’s on me.”

Gilman was not needed in the spring. When a player is as talented as he is, as vital to Notre Dame’s defense as he is, and as committed to lacking an off-switch as he is, spring practice is not the best venue to work through a mild injury. That does not mean he could not learn in March and April or help the team.

“With Alohi, we’re hoping that he gets back healthy and is able to push his game a little further,” Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea said in early March. “If you remember, we sat in this room a year ago talking about his lack of experience. He’s now one year further along, but there’s still ground to be covered.

“He can learn, it’s about the depth of the understanding of what he’s doing. He will benefit greatly from this spring in those ways.”

Syracuse Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman (11) returns interception during an NCAA college football game against Syracuse, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Howard Simmons)


“Last season, the Irish safeties had their hands in a grand total of zero turnovers. The lack of interceptions is well discussed and a greater concern, but Elliott, (Devin) Studstill and (Nick) Coleman also failed to force or recover any fumbles. It took Gilman all of two drives in the Blue-Gold Game to showcase that part of his game, halting a big gain from receiver Michael Young by both forcing and recovering a fumble.

“Along with his six tackles in the scrimmage, that strip presumably secured Gilman’s starting role entering 2018. Even with the strong springtime showing from (Houston) Griffith and the arrival of consensus four-star freshman Derrik Allen, Gilman should start alongside Elliott against Michigan, each bringing a year of starting experience to the gig.

“Further evidence of Gilman’s spot in the pecking order, Coleman’s work at nickelback during the spring hints at Lea trying to find a way to get his best players on the field one way or another. If Gilman supplanted Coleman, then Coleman spending time at nickel would offer a different defensive look in Lea’s inventory.

“To hold off the freshmen duo, Gilman will need to continue finding the ball both in turnover situations and as run fits dictate. Those are the strengths of his game, items sorely lacking from the Notre Dame secondary for a couple seasons.

“Coleman accounted for 44 tackles in 2017, Elliott just one behind him. In this system, the safeties do not rack up exceptional numbers of takedowns. Thus, do not expect Gilman to match his Naval total. His ball skills are more crucial to Lea’s defense, anyway.”

After the Irish sealed an undefeated regular season and a berth in the College Football Playoff with a win at USC, a clip circulated through social media of Gilman extolling his teammates to rally from a halftime deficit in the Coliseum. That moment became the public understanding of something Lea originally praised six months before Gilman ever took the field for Notre Dame. (See 3:13 in the below video.)

“He’s a guy that in one year has made an impact from a leadership standpoint,” Lea said in April of 2018. “The guys follow him, they listen to him, they trust him. It’s apparent. He’s consistent, he’s dependable, all the things that you would want. He’s got it as a leader. We want to harness that and let that shine as he goes.”

If Gilman is not named an Irish captain, that will be mildly surprising, but it will not diminish that reputation in any respect. Gilman is vital to Notre Dame in more ways than just his tackle counts.

In fact, it could be argued Gilman’s tackles are the least important contribution he makes, even the ones with such impact you can hear the wallop from the press box. Getting a hand in on five turnovers is five more than Irish safeties managed in the year Gilman was forced to sit on the sidelines. Even in that above video, Gilman forces a fumble at the 2:35 mark.

Notre Dame has defensive concerns this season — the defensive tackle depth, all the linebackers, its second cornerback — but having a backline of two seniors well-versed in leadership both with a nose for the football should create some margin of error.

When a player transfers due to NFL aspirations and then stars in his next season of action, it should be somewhat presumed he will head to the next level when a genuine opportunity presents itself. Getting a degree is likely important to someone who initially went to Annapolis, but expecting Gilman back beyond that in 2020 is betting against the odds, at least as far as this logic is concerned.

While he may seem undersized, his frame carries enough muscle to hold up in the NFL, and Gilman’s knack for finding the football will always give him a chance.

Even if he returns for his final season of eligibility, Gilman’s role should decrease slightly. That is partly because he may do everything this year, while by 2020 some of the young safeties should be more ready to contribute.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star
No. 13: Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver
No. 13: Paul Moala, sophomore safety-turned-linebacker
No. 12: DJ Brown, sophomore cornerback-turned-safety
No. 12: Ian Book, starting quarterback