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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety

Notre Dame v USC

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Nicco Fertitta #28 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is charged with a head to head contact foul on Aca’Cedric Ware #28 of the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-9, 179 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: The week of the Blue-Gold Game, Irish coach Brian Kelly said Fertitta is the second boundary safety, behind only sophomore Jalen Elliott. Early enrolled-freshman Isaiah Robertson could soon continue on a trajectory to supplant Fertitta one slot further.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Fertitta joined high school classmate and teammate Alizé Jones (né Mack) in choosing Notre Dame. A U.S. Army All-American, Fertitta also had offers from Arizona, Houston and Utah, among others. rated him the No. 54 safety in the class of 2015 and the No. 4 prospect in Nevada.

Fertitta has seen action in 23 of 25 possible games, including all 12 last season.

2015: 11 games, largely seeing action on special teams, making one tackle and forcing a fumble with it against Massachusetts.
2016: 12 games, 17 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss (against Navy), two pass break-ups.

In addition to evaluating the safety depth chart before the spring finale, Kelly insisted Fertitta would play in the publicized practice despite having a cast protecting his left wrist.

“You couldn’t keep him out,” Kelly said. “He’d do a Ronnie Lott. He’d probably chop it off.”

For those unfamiliar with the reference, NFL Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott once opted to amputate his broken pinkie finger rather than spend the time necessary to go through surgery and rehab.

I expect Fertitta to play in all 13 games, but only take snaps on defense in mop-up duty. Unless injuries hit, [current senior rover Drue] Tranquill should be in the starting lineup with Avery Sebastian supplementing him. At free safety, [Max] Redfield will be competing with [current sophomore] Devin Studstill, with a very large hole behind those two players.

“If Fertitta looked and played the game like a centerfielder, that’s where I’d have him penciled in. But he’s a mini-Tranquill, with physical limitations also hindering his ability to be a single-high safety, making him a better fit at strong safety.

“As long as there’s a hole in the depth chart at safety, you’ve got to give Fertitta a chance to see the field. And as long as there are multiple sub-packages and schemes being deployed by [former Irish defensive coordinator] Brian VanGorder, there’s always a chance that a sure tackler like Fertitta can find a role. But it just feels like there are other options available that’ll better suit what VanGorder and [defensive backs coach] Todd Lyght want from their secondary, leaving coverage teams the likely home for Fertitta in 2016 and beyond.

More than speed or physicality, it is Fertitta’s height, or lack thereof, which limits him in pass defense. Opponents can throw over him. Kick and punt returners do not have that option, and they are thus forced to encounter Fertitta’s preference for hitting and hitting hard.

If nothing else, he will continue to rack up coverage tackles while helping special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s short-handed units. Anything more than that role will come from wrinkles deployed by defensive coordinator Mike Elko.

Fertitta understands the game and is happy to remind bigger opponents he may be just as strong as them. In run-specific situations, there is certainly a fit for such a mentality. It was that approach which led to Fertitta injuring USC running back Ada’Cedric Ware in the 2016 season finale. The fumble forced on the play was nullified by a targeting call, but Fertitta’s impact was noticed.

That targeting call, since it occurred in the second half of the last game of the season, will keep Fertitta out for the first half of this year’s season-opener against Temple.

Don’t be surprised to see Fertitta exceed 50 tackles over the next two seasons combined. The vast majority of those will admittedly come on special teams, but stopping an opponent three yards sooner than a teammate could is three yards of field position preserved whether it is on special teams or defense.

Robertson and classmate Jordan Genmark-Heath only add to the depth chart which will likely cap Fertitta’s defensive opportunities both this year and in 2018.

2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship