01 OCT 2016: Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Dexter Williams (2) scores a touchdown during the game between the Syracuse Orange and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Irish springboard: Notre Dame youth movement in bloom

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

The youth movement is in full swing at Notre Dame. Seventh-year Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly has sent a total of 13 freshmen to the field in his team’s first five games of the season. That baker’s dozen is a record for a single season since Kelly has been head coach under the golden dome.

Some of those players have found themselves on the field out of sheer necessity, some because they’re just that good and others for a combination of both.

“They came here ready to play in their own mind and I think that goes through our recruiting and understanding that when you come to Notre Dame we don’t have any redshirt seniors,” Kelly said of his freshmen this week.

For the record, the Irish do have a handful of redshirt seniors on the roster in any given year, but they typically reside on the offensive and defensive lines, where an extra year in the weight room goes a long way.

Besides the true freshmen, there are also redshirt freshmen such as defensive lineman Elijah Taylor, who are finally getting their chance to shine. Taylor was on ND’s scout team last year and didn’t play a down through the first four games of this year. He made his debut against Syracuse last Saturday, less than a week after defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was fired.

Here are a few other young Irish players who are likely to hear their numbers called more in the future as the season nears its midpoint:

Dexter Williams is actually a true sophomore, but his opportunities have been limited through the first 12 games of his career. He played in seven games last year, but had just 81 yards on 21 carries as the third back behind C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams.

Williams came into this season as the No. 3 back behind Adams and Tarean Folston (injured most of last season), but finally had his breakout with a breathtaking 59-yard touchdown run against Syracuse.

“He comes to practice every day with great energy and enthusiasm and I think that has a lot to do with him being comfortable here,” Kelly said of Williams this week.

Energy and enthusiasm are the ingredients Kelly has been looking for from his team in recent weeks, and that could get Williams more centrally in the mix. He’s currently the team’s third-leading rusher with 166 yards on just 21 carries, but he leads the team with a 7.8 per-carry average. He’s also bulked up 15 pounds to 210 since last year.

Troy Pride, Jr. had the biggest leap in the post-VanGorder defense. The freshman cornerback did not play through the first four games, but wound up with 80 defensive plays against Syracuse in his college debut, as well as several special teams reps.

“I really was impressed with him,” Kelly said of Pride. “I wanted to play him and I thought we should have played him, so I’m making those personnel decisions.”

Pride had just one tackle against the Orange, but that’s not a bad thing. The defensive back, who is blessed with what Kelly says is “extraordinary” make-up speed, played well enough to keep Syracuse from throwing in his direction for most of the second half.

Julian Love is another freshman corner who’s stock is on the rise. Unlike Pride, Love played in Notre Dame’s first four games, but he did make his first start of the season against Syracuse.

Love was the backup nickel back behind Shaun Crawford to start the season, but gained more time when Crawford was lost to an Achilles. Cole Luke has since taken over the nickel spot and Love is now locked in as a true cornerback.

Irish springboard: Notre Dame youth movement in bloom
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