Notre Dame DT commit Jacob Lacey taking advantage of improving competiton

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

The snap sailed low to quarterback Beau Buchanan, who cupped it with his right hand, secured it and briskly handed it off.

The scrambled recovery did not save Bowling Green (Ky.) High’s running back, however.

As Devito Tisdale was handling the exchange, South Warren defensive tackle Jacob Lacey zoomed through the line, pummeled the running back and forced a fumble, which the defense recovered. Lacey raised his hands to the sky, then beat his chest, pumped his fists and chest-bumped a coach in jubilation.

INSTANT HIGHLIGHT: https://t.co/jBW8rgCvYr

South Warren’s Jacob Lacey crashes the Bowling Green backfield causing a turnover. Watch Live. pic.twitter.com/WJ8ZdTvQD9

— The Sporting Times (@sportingtimes) October 20, 2018

The rivalry game began a four-week stretch of brilliance for Lacey, one of Notre Dame’s 19 commits for 2019. He’s registered 28 tackles, 17 TFLs, eight sacks and three forced fumbles during that span.

“I think this is the most consistent I have played,” Lacey said of his recent play.

Since 2015, Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston has signed just three defensive ends rated higher than three stars. Meanwhile, Lacey joins an impressive defensive line haul comprised of three other four-star recruits — Howard Cross III, NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Hunter Spears.

Although the latter three are having stellar seasons, Lacey has stood out the most.

“They’ve got some good players coming in, but none of them are better than (Lacey),” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network.

At 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, Lacey operates like a bowling ball. His low center of gravity and solid motor allows him to bull rush through opposing guards. With his violent hands and quick feet, Lacey sprinkles in an occasional swim move.

“Getting underneath those shoulder pads of those 6-4, 6-5 offensive lineman is really an advantage that we have,” said Lacey of shorter defensive tackles. “Being able to get around them really quick is something most of them are not used to.”

Because of Lacey’s pass rush arsenal, head coach Brandon Smith rotates him at nose guard, the three technique and defensive end.

“He moves like a skill guy at 285 pounds, and I think that’s the most impressive thing about him,” Smith said.

Perhaps he developed more speed after dropping 15 pounds in the offseason. Lacey weighs around where he did as a freshman.

“I didn’t really change anything — I just did not eat as much,” Lacey said. “Not eating as much and drinking more water. It gradually went away with football training.

“I definitely feel quicker and better all-around consistently. I have actually gotten stronger since then, really, in all aspects. Losing that weight was not a big deal for my body. I just got stronger and leaner.”

Despite Lacey’s premiere shape, a few factors prevented him from reaching his potential. For starters, he’s played in a mere two full games this season. The unbeaten Spartans have won one game by under 22 points.

Lacey also often draws double-teams and sometimes triple-teams. That’s why Smith continues to shift him across the defensive line and dial up stunts to free him.

Once he’s isolated in a one-on-one matchup, watch out.

“He’s perfectly suited for Notre Dame as an inside guy,” Lemming said. “I think he would help there, and I think this is a guy, after graduation, who could come in and play right away. I think he’s talented enough.”

Lacey could still use his hands more, Smith said. Neglecting technical aspects does not always penalize Lacey with his overpowering stature. He’s reminded about how that won’t be the case at the next level.

“But he has always been extremely responsive to that and accepts that feedback,” Smith said. “He consciously tries to work on it. He wants to be good. If you give him feedback, then he will take it, and he will apply it.”

Elston has not offered many pointers yet but gives Lacey a biweekly call, the defensive tackle said. Lacey exhausted his official visit in April but came up for the Sept. 1 Michigan and Sept. 15 Vanderbilt games.

He intends on watching ND’s defensive line in person once more for Saturday’s contest against Florida State.

“They have had a really great defensive line for a very long time,” Lacey said. “The way coach Elston develops those players and how they are able to do things they do consistently in the big games — and just all the time making plays when they need to — is very impressive and exciting.”

Should South Warren take care of Grayson County on Friday, it would advance to the quarterfinals. A championship run could mean South Warren facing Covington Catholic — home of Michael Mayer, Notre Dame’s 2020 tight end commit.

Playing in 12 of the last 16 quarters is an uptick in usage for Lacey. But more time on the field — as well as a championship date with Mayer — is all Lacey covets as he continues to overload stat sheets.

“I definitely prefer highly competitive games,” Lacey said. “Even (against Owensboro Catholic), I came out with five minutes left in the third quarter. I was not satisfied with that.”