Notre Dame has already brought back some elite talent for 2022
Notre Dame has had a number of players announce their intentions to return next season, including a few pleasant surprises. The chance to play for new head coach Marcus Freeman seems to be an opportunity that excites many players, and one that a multitude are taking advantage of. Needless to say, the Irish are bringing back a few key pieces that will bolster next year’s team and bring some experience to a roster that was seemingly going to be pretty young.
With all that being said, let’s take a look at some impact players who chose to don the Notre Dame uniform once again next season instead of departing for the NFL.
Braden Lenzy, Avery Davis, and Joe Wilkins Jr., WRs
It was a bit of a surprise, at least to me, that Lenzy will be coming back for his fifth season as a member of the Fighting Irish. However, his return is great news for the Notre Dame offense, as the receiver room was beginning to look a little thin heading into the 2022 season. Whereas Lenzy’s decision to return was slightly surprising, Davis's decision to come back seemed like a foregone conclusion after his injury. Davis tore his ACL against Navy this past season and given that it was only his second season at wide receiver, his return seemed inevitable. For those that don’t know, Davis was originally a four-star recruit at quarterback before moving to running back, cornerback, safety, and then receiver last year in 2020. Wilkins also suffered a season-ending knee injury when he tore his MCL against Cincinnati, making his return less of a surprise as well. It appeared as if the Irish were going to need to pursue receivers heavily in the transfer portal – and they still might – but the return of these three give the offense some much needed depth at the receiver position. They will bring tons of experience and leadership to the receiver room, and they all should have another productive season while mentoring a young crop of receivers in Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie, and incoming freshman Tobias Merriweather.
Jarrett Patterson, C
Patterson’s decision to return was also a bit of a surprise for me, but one that will help a young line that struggled in 2021 return to form in 2022. He is another captain who will rejoin his teammates in South Bend next season, and he will bring a sense of stability to a group that could see multiple position changes between now and the season opener. The line will likely see an influx of younger starters as Blake Fisher and Joe Alt look to keep their starting spots and Rocco Spindler makes a push to start at guard. Patterson should be rock solid in the middle of all this confusion, and the Irish should see this as a huge boost for a running game that will miss star running back Kyren Williams more than they would like to admit.
Josh Lugg, OT
Lugg’s return was also a bit of a surprise, but he will get a chance to make up for the Fiesta Bowl he missed due to a late knee injury he sustained in the days leading up to the game. He started 12 games at right tackle this past season, but he may move inside to right guard as the aforementioned younger linemen make a push for playing time at other positions. Lugg had a solid season as the offensive line improved dramatically over the course of the regular season, and he will look to build upon this progress in his sixth college season. This year, however, he will get the chance to play under new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who will return to Notre Dame next year to replace Jeff Quinn and return the Irish to their status as OLU.
Isaiah Foskey, DE
The biggest surprise and biggest win for the Irish was Foskey’s decision to return to South Bend next year despite having a stellar junior season. He led the Irish defense with 11 sacks in 2021, and always seemed to make huge plays at the right time, including forcing a late fumble in the Fiesta Bowl that gave Notre Dame some hope. In a draft with strong defensive end talent (i.e., Hutchinson and Thibodeaux), Foskey decided to come back for one more run at a national championship, this time under the direction of Marcus Freeman. His return, paired with the Ademilola twins’, gives the Irish a scary defensive line heading into 2022. Look for Foskey to put up huge numbers next season on his way to being a first round pick.
Jayson and Justin Ademilola, DT and DE
The twins are back for a fifth year, news that should make all Notre Dame fans happy. While the two don’t seem to get a ton of national recognition, Irish fans are aware of the impact these two have had on countless games over the past few seasons. At times they seem to live in opposing backfields and the two were second and third in sacks for the Irish this past year. Paired with returners Foskey, Howard Cross, Rylie Mills, NaNa Osafo-Mensah, and Jordan Bohtelo in addition to newcomers Tyson Ford and Donovan Hinish, this defensive line will be scary next season.
Bo Bauer, LB
Bauer will also return for a fifth year with the Irish, bringing his energy and ability to fly around the field with him. With Drew White likely gone to the NFL, Bauer will be the oldest linebacker on the staff next season. He will work alongside JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser, and Marist Liufau to mentor sophomore Prince Kollie and a host of incoming freshman. This freshman linebacker class is absolutely loaded and includes five-star recruit Jaylen Sneed, four-star Josh Burnham, four-star Niufae Tuihalamaka, and four-star Nolan Ziegler. Bauer will serve as a great example to these young players and should be the heart and soul of a team that will have young players all over the field.
TaRiq Bracy, CB
The Notre Dame secondary was a weak link this past season, especially in the Fiesta Bowl. Bracy actually had a decent season in 2021, recording 26 tackles, 2 passes deflected, and one interception. The fifth year will be the elder statesman in a very young position group, as the Irish will have one senior in Cam Hart, one junior in Clarence Lewis, and six underclassmen. Look for Bracy to take on a leadership role in 2022 and really take his game to the next level under Freeman.
Houston Griffith and DJ Brown, S
Safety will be a very deep position group for the Irish in 2022, and the replacement of Kyle Hamilton may go better than expected. Both Brown and Griffith will return for a fifth year in South Bend and look to avenge the abysmal secondary performance in the Fiesta Bowl. Brown led Notre Dame with three interceptions in 2021, and he had a very good season following the departure of Hamilton due to injury. However, both players will probably concede playing time to Brandon Joseph, the All-American safety transfer from Northwestern who will join the Irish next season. Joseph is an extremely talented junior and a huge get for Freeman’s defense. His presence will likely be the best Notre Dame does in terms of replacing Hamilton, but Griffith and Brown provide needed depth in the secondary for the Irish.
Michael Vinson, LS
Milk, as he is known throughout the program, will make his return to South Bend next year as the long snapper. The beloved walk-on earned a scholarship prior to the Fiesta Bowl, and he will become a three-year starter in 2022. He will be working with some new personnel next season following the departure of kicker Jon Doerer and punter Jay Bramblett, and his return will bring some stability to the special teams unit.