Four Notre Dame players involved in investigation will not play in opener

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The rumors of possible reinstatements in time for 17th-ranked Notre Dame’s football season opener Saturday against Rice fizzled a few minutes into coach Brian Kelly’s Tuesday press conference.

The four players at the center of the school’s ongoing academic fraud investigation have been ruled out for this week by Kelly, though the coach said he hasn’t received any updates from athletic director Jack Swarbrick, nor did he expect to this soon.

“I figure with school starting on Tuesday that Jack will inform me once he gets information,” Kelly said. “He's pretty good at getting right back with me, so (it’s) not something where I feel like I’ve got to pick up the phone if there is a disconnect with information. Jack works great with immediately getting me information that is needed relative to making decisions for our football team.”

Given that student representatives are involved from beginning to end of the Honor Code process, having some kind of finality on the fates of projected starters KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams and DaVaris Daniels as well as reserve Kendall Moore oozed with improbability when school was not yet in session.

“I know that when we go through an academic process like this, that involves our Honor Code, that this is a process that's out of my hands,” Kelly said of his expectations for resolution. “I've been through one already with Everett (Golson in the spring of 2013), so I know the workings of it. It does me no good to put a timetable on it. It does me no good to think about ‘What day?’ I moved on, and the process will take care of itself.”

Part of the moving-on process involved elevating three sophomores to the top of the depth chart for the Rice game, two of whom will be making their first collegiate starts.

The one who isn’t, wide receiver Corey Robinson, had surgery on Friday for a fractured thumb.

“He had a pin placed in there on Friday, and he was back at practice (Monday) catching the football,” Kelly said. “So he is a go for Saturday.”

If so, it will be Robinson’s fourth career start. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder from San Antonio has nine career catches.

The receiving corps that Daniels hopes to rejoin at some point is deep on talent, but short on experience. To put it in perspective, the senior Daniels in two seasons of playing (he redshirted in 2011) has 80 career receptions. The rest of the Irish roster combined — including running backs, tight ends, wide receivers and linebacker James Onwualu (a former receiver) — has 75.

On defense, a young defense gets even younger. Already new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had plopped six true freshmen into the two-deeps, not including freshman players such as end Jhonny Williams, who could see significant action as a niche player.

Cole Luke, who replaces third-year starter KeiVarae Russell at cornerback (77 career tackles, three interceptions), did play in all 13 games last season as a reserve. He had 15 tackles.

Isaac Rochell played in 11 games as a true freshman last season, with 10 tackles. He steps in for Williams, a former five-star prospect who had spent most of his career up to this point as a reserve, but a key one. Williams has 45 career tackles.

The school initiated the investigation on July 29. Sixteen days later, Kelly was informed along with the NCAA. The next day, Aug. 15, a press conference was held. The players were not a part of practice that day, nor have they been since.

“I did not feel in this instance that I was at any time left out of the loop, felt as though I was blindsided by a long investigation,” Kelly said. “I think the information that was ascertained in this matter was pretty straightforward. It was quick, and once they were able to kind of confirm the information, Jack let me know. So at no time did I feel that.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly talks to the media during a media day press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)