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Notre Dame loses veteran WR Avery Davis for season to torn ACL; Kyle Hamilton’s status

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 02: Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Avery Davis (3) catches the football during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Cincinnati Bearcats on October 2, 2021, in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Avery Davis’ Notre Dame career has taken another turn. It included time at quarterback, running back and defensive back before he found a significant contributing role at receiver. That role will now come to an abrupt halt, to be determined if it resumes in 2022, after Davis tore his ACL in the 34-6 Irish win against Navy on Saturday.

Davis was turning to follow junior running back Kyren Williams toward the end zone late in the victory when he suddenly fell to the ground, grabbing at his left knee, the non-contact nature of the injury a telltale sign of severity.

“Very disappointed for him, he was having a great season,” head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “He’ll have to make a decision as to what he wants to do next. He has another year, the [pandemic exception] year for him. I think he was planning on obviously going to the NFL, but he’ll have to make a decision. I don’t think he’s in a position right now that he’s ready to do that.

“He’ll be invited back if he chooses to do that, but he’s got some time to make that decision.”

Davis finishes 2021 with 27 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns, building on his breakout 2020. Most notably this season, Davis had the touchdown to set up Notre Dame to tie the game with only a few minutes left at Virginia Tech, his calling card becoming the clutch touchdowns when the Irish most need them, best known for his deep snag and then subsequent score against No. 1 Clemson a year ago — 364 days, in fact, before his knee injury.

Davis had 24 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns in 2020, finally solidifying his role on the team after he was recruited as a quarterback in 2017, moved to running back in the spring of 2018, spent most of that season working at defensive back and then trying out receiver part-time until finding a home there in 2019. Throughout all those moves Davis remained a steadfast locker room presence, universally respected by his teammates, reflected by being voted captain this season.

“Growing up, I went through some things, and my mother always told me never to quit, so that was just on my mind,” Davis said after his football heroism in last year’s double-overtime upset of Clemson. “I knew I had unfinished business here at this school. I knew I was going to graduate. Every day I just come to work, that’s been my mindset. I think preparation finding the opportunity and I capitalized on it.”

Combining Davis’ injury with senior Joe Wilkins’ MCL tear with senior Lawrence Keys’ transfer with Xavier Watts’ move to safety, along with Jordan Johnson’s offseason transfer to Central Florida, the Irish have only five remaining scholarship receivers: Seniors Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy, and freshmen Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas.

Thomas has yet to appear in a game in 2021, on the scout team to date, so more pertinently, Notre Dame has four active scholarship receivers.

Styles will see the greatest influx of action in the next four games. He has nine catches for 160 yards already, and his weekly work could as much as triple. Kelly said last week Styles played 16 snaps, compared to Davis’ 44.

Davis was often lined up on the field (wide) side of alignments with fewer receivers, a position Austin will fill into with Colzie backfilling into the boundary in place of Austin.

“You’ll see an insertion of a little bit of what those guys have normally done, but we’ll just move the parts around a little bit,” Kelly said.

That will also include more work in the slot for Williams and sophomore running back Chris Tyree, something the Irish have dabbled in this season. Moving sophomore tight end Michael Mayer out wide could also allow Lenzy or Austin to line up at the slot in some moments.

Thomas will begin working with the varsity offense, more an emergency preparation than anything else.

The offseason was spent with fans and some media alike pondering the thought of star junior safety Kyle Hamilton seeing offensive reps. That has not and will not come to pass, always more a message board joke than a genuine possibility. Right now, Notre Dame (8-1) simply wonders if Hamilton will return at all from his knee injury suffered against USC on Oct. 23.

“We do not have all the information on Hamilton yet,” Kelly said. “That’s going to take most of the day. The MRI is complete, but we have other doctors that will take a look at it. The family wants to get completed information, as does Kyle, before any decisions are made. I think we’ll have a better understanding of what his status is probably later today.”

A likely top-five NFL draft pick this spring, Hamilton has more to ponder than just Virginia’s high-scoring offense.

Senior cornerback TaRiq Bracy suffered a dislocated finger against the Midshipmen but should be alright moving forward, per Kelly, and fifth-year linebacker Drew White’s torn PCL did not come out of Saturday any worse for wear, despite facing the triple-option with a torn ligament.

“He’ll be fine,” Kelly said. “Barry Sanders played pretty well without a PCL. We all know the medical situation there relative to the PCL.

“It’s more of, for him, during the week, it’s a different feeling without that PCL. When it was torn, he had to get through that and the pain associated with a torn ligament. He’s a warrior.”

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