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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 94 Isaiah Foskey, sophomore defensive end

Isaiah Foskey recruitment

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ⅞, 255 pounds
2020-21 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Foskey will still have four years of eligibility, including the coming season, after Notre Dame carefully rationed his fourth appearance last year for the regular-season finale and then held him out of the Camping World Bowl.Depth chart: In most seasons this century, Foskey would have started as an Irish freshman. Now, he might not even crack the two-deep as a sophomore. Fifth-year Daelin Hayes will lead the way, and junior Ovie Oghoufo has shown every indication of developing into the next piece along Mike Elston’s line. That said, Foskey will get a chance to surpass Oghoufo in the preseason, whenever that may begin.
Recruiting: The All-American and the No. 15 weakside defensive end in the class of 2019 was the last Notre Dame player to declare his commitment on the February version of National Signing Day, but the reality was he had signed with the Irish in December. The consensus four-star prospect simply wanted to enjoy a ceremony with the rest of his high school teammates, when he publicly chose Notre Dame rather than Washington or Cal.

The Irish coaching staff tested out Foskey in the early-season blowouts of New Mexico and Bowling Green, just as it did many freshmen, but then when Julian Okwara broke his leg at Duke, some depth was needed. Foskey stepped in against the Blue Devils and was then held in reserve for three weeks to make his fourth and final appearance at Stanford.

2019: 4 games, 5 tackles, one blocked punt.

That blocked punt came with Notre Dame trailing the Cardinal 17-7 late in the second quarter of a game where the Irish were favored by two touchdowns. Stretching out a lanky right arm, Foskey set up Notre Dame to take a lead before halftime and notch its first win at The Farm since 2007.

When Foskey stepped in for Okwara but then was not seen for two games, it was very much intentional. The Irish firmly believed they could get past Navy and Boston College without every contributor possible, and if that was true, they could preserve Foskey’s eligibility while deploying him against the stiffest remaining competition. To get the most of that final opportunity, that action included special teams.

“We weren’t using him at all, so if we were going to use up him up in this fourth game, we were going to use him everywhere we could,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “... He is so long, we felt like we could get [a blocked punt] with him and that’s why we had him on punt.”

That asset was undeniable, but there was (is) still plenty of room for Foskey’s development.

“He’s weak,” Kelly said when asked directly about Foskey’s strength, or lack thereof, as a freshman. “He’s going on really good hands, hand-placement. He can leverage really well. He bends well. He’s going to be a really, really fine football player. He’s just not strong enough yet.”

“Foskey’s listed measurements from high school do not convey a small individual, and that 6-foot-5 frame already carries a good amount of muscle. Call it a hunch, but when the media gets its first looks at Foskey this preseason, the reviews will include some version of, “He looks like a college senior.” Does that guarantee playing time? Of course not, but it is never a bad thing.

“Okwara and Hayes will own the spotlight on the weak edge this year, and Ademilola no longer needs to be restrained to only four games. The Irish have not been this well set at defensive end in decades. There have been seasons during Kelly’s tenure in which Foskey would have been in the two-deep upon arrival and possibly starting after the October idle week. Now, he is simply fortunate the NCAA allows for four games of appearances before losing a year of eligibility.

“Then again, while Kelly has softened on his long-held belief that talented defensive linemen would not stay for a fifth season even if it is available, it remains a core tenet of his. Notre Dame may not see it as necessary to preserve a year for Foskey. If he can contribute, genuinely so, then adding another level of defensive line rotation would only help the Irish defense in November.

“Consider Foskey a ripe test case for that traditional strategy of Kelly’s in this new era of eligibility rules.”

Foskey’s ceiling is higher than Oghoufo’s, but the latter’s is also distinctly notable. For all the obvious reasons, the debate about which is No. 2 behind Hayes will be an intriguing one, but the practical reality will be the duo will work in tandem to complement Hayes.

Elston has leaned on frequent defensive line rotations the last few years as his charges have become more talented with savvier recruiting. That has also included some situation-specific packages, most passing-down occasions featuring three defensive ends. Between these three in particular, fifth-year Ade Ogundeji and junior Justin Ademilola, Elston will be able to mix-and-match the pass-rush combinations.

Foskey may hold an edge in those moments thanks to his length. What that results in statistically across a full season is anybody’s guess, but it will likely include at least one more big moment.

Suggesting someone with five career tackles will have reason to jump to the NFL with remaining eligibility is a bit ambitious, but simply looking at Foskey explains the reasoning for such pondering. One way or another, every expectation suggests Foskey will make his presence known long past that November punt block.

IntroductionNo. 99 Rylie Mills, early-enrolled freshman defensive linemanNo. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, German defensive end
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, senior defensive tackle

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