Updated: Ishaq's father vows defensive end's future will include an ND degree

Says his son plans to return to Notre Dame next year

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

There are still some moving parts in play that Shaun Williams isn’t entirely sure he understands, but he finally has the solace that his dream, his son Ishaq’s dream, remains a reality.

Even if the Notre Dame senior defensive end won’t play another down of football until the fall of 2015.

“My focus throughout this process has always been about Ishaq and getting his Notre Dame degree,” Williams said in a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “They don’t hand those out to everybody.

“That has long-term implications. They talk about it being a 40-year decision to come to Notre Dame. I believe that. And Ishaq will be back to get his. And I hope when he does, he has a chance to clear his name.”

Williams, projected to be a starting defensive end for the Irish this season, was one of five players held out of team meetings, practices and games since August during an academic fraud investigation that began July 29 and became public Aug. 15.

Starting junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell and starting senior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels along with reserve linebacker Kendall Moore and backup safety Eilar Hardy were the others involved in the probe. Only Moore will have exhausted his eligibility and redshirt options to play at ND or somewhere else in 2015.

Moore acknowledged Tuesday afternoon on Instagram and Twitter that his ND career was over. The grad student from Raleigh, N.C., paired his words with a picture of himself in his ND cap and gown from last May’s graduation ceremony.

“Notre Dame has rendered its decision,” Moore wrote. “While it is disappointing, I will respectfully leave my alma mater as a proud May 2014 graduate of the institution that I have respectfully loved and given my best efforts during my college career.

“Regardless of this announced outcome, my personal and ethical integrity remain intact and I have honored my collegiate journey from the beginning straight through to this end and I will take on the next chapters in my life with the same progressive commitment to excellence, hard work and relentless determination toward unlimited success.

“I was raised to excel on every level and I want to thank my parents for their unwavering support and belief in me; their powerful words of love, encouragement and faith helped to sustain me through this process. I thank my family, friends and fans for the support. I want to thank Notre Dame for the opportunity and I wish my teammates and this program all of the success in the world.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged earlier Tuesday that the two players he had spoken directly with recently were Russell and Williams, and that both were done for this season and that both were expected back in 2015.

Russell originally announced his fate and his plan on his Instagram account late last week.

Meanwhile, DaVaris Daniels’ father, Phillip Daniels, posted on his Twitter account Tuesday morning: “Finally after 4 months my son got an answer! He is done at Notre Dame and will weigh his options for the future! #HeIsNDNoMore.”

Phillip Daniels later tweeted that there was an option for DaVaris to return to ND in 2015.

But DaVaris Daniels’ own tweet seemed to contradict his father’s take on the situation: “Not looking to transfer. ND was my team. ND is where my heart was. Unfortunately my time here is done, ready for my future.”

Only Hardy has yet to step forward in some form or fashion to clarify his situation.

Williams retains a fifth-year option, because he has not redshirted. The former five-star prospect from Brooklyn, N.Y., remains in South Bend, but Shaun Williams wasn’t sure whether his son would be allowed to finish the semester as part of the conditions moving forward.

A university spokesman confirmed all five players were still enrolled. Another spokesman concurred, but added that status could soon change.

“There’s finality in this, but there are options,” Shaun Williams said. “I’m not sure I understand all of them, but my understanding is that Ishaq can come back in the summer of 2015.”

Ishaq himself took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon with the following tweet: “God will not put you through anything you can't handle. #minorsetback #majorcomeback.”

“It sounds very positive, but he really doesn’t have a choice,” Shaun Williams said. “It’s bigger than Ishaq. There are a lot of kids in Brooklyn that look up to Ishaq, and this is about them too.

“It was a tough process to go through — five black boys being paraded as the face of academic dishonesty. You never really embrace something like that, but I’m proud of the way he handled it.

“I’m proud of the decision he made to stay at Notre Dame. I’m happy part of this is finally behind him. Education ain’t free. You pay with it with blood, sweat, tears and injuries — and now this. We’re convinced it’s going to be worth it in the end.”

The pro perspective

The carrot pulling Russell and Williams, the only two of the Frozen Five at this point confirmed as planning a return to ND in 2015, appears to be academics foremost in both instances.

Draft analyst Scott Wright said Tuesday it was also a smart decision from a pro perspective for two players with NFL aspirations.

“That’s especially true for Ishaq Williams,” said Wright of draftcountdown.com, “because he really hasn’t proven himself on the field yet. He hasn’t played at a high level, like Russell has.”

All five of ND’s suspended players are eligible for the 2015 draft, though scouts are really only tracking three of them — Russell, Williams and Daniels.

“With Russell, it would have been nice to see him play this year, because there are a lot of good receivers on the schedule — (Michigan’s) Devin Funchess, (Stanford’s) Ty Montgomery, and (Florida State’s) Rashad Greene coming up. You’ve got Jaelen Strong at Arizona State.

“But we’ve already seen KeiVarae Russell play at a very high level, so I think his draft stock will probably be at the same point it is going in next fall as it was going into this fall. I don’t think it’s going to hurt him too bad. Ishaq Williams, I think a lot of people are probably excited to see how he can perform in this new style of defense.

He certainly wasn’t particularly effective in that 3-4. I think this more of a 4-3 scheme is more suited to his skills and it’s more of an upfield attacking defense that really should be tailor-made for a guy like Ishaq Williams.

“This might have been his breakout season, but I definitely think that it’s in his best interests to stay in college and use that other year of eligibility, whether it be at Notre Dame or somewhere else. He needs another year on the field to really make his case for why a team should invest in him.”

Daniels said he contemplated entering the 2014 Draft when he was booted from school last winter for academic reasons, but instead returned to ND for the summer term.

And if he decided to jump into the draft pool this year and leave his final year of college eligibility on the table?

“I think it would be a mistake,” Wright said. “I think he’s another guy who needs one more year to really assert himself. It’s not about a lack of production. He’s been a good player. And even when Tommy Rees was his quarterback, he was relatively productive, but you wonder what he’s capable of.

“I think you can make an argument, probably based on talent alone, that he’s a top 100 talent. But I don’t think he has a chance of going into the top two or three rounds. I think he’s a potential day three pick, late rounds, if he were to enter the draft this year.

“To a certain degree, we’re probably in unchartered territory with prospects with character concerns. And I’m not saying DaVaris Daniels is the next Lawrence Phillips or anything like that. But he’s now got multiple issues in his background that teams are going to have to investigate.

“It’s one thing if you’re talking about Jameis Winston, who is a potential franchise-changing quarterback. It’s another thing when you’re talking about a late-round wide receiver prospect. I’ve heard from scouts on the road this year that they’re putting a lot more time looking into backgrounds. I don’t want to make it sound like DaVaris Daniels is a bad kid, but there are multiple issues now, and it’s a concern.

“Whether it’s Notre Dame, another FBS program, an FCS program, Division II, go somewhere, build some positive momentum heading into the draft.”

What about the W’s?

In Notre Dame's Aug. 15 press conference confirming the existence of the academic fraud probe, Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins offered that the school might consider voluntarily vacating victories “if the investigation determines that the student-athletes would have been ineligible for past competitions.”

ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick pointed out, though, that generally the NCAA stays out of academic misconduct issues and lets schools clean up their own messes — unless they have broad tentacles that include, say, coaching staff members being complicit, which wasn’t found to be the case at Notre Dame.

Then, in an Oct. 5 statement issued by the university, the wording changed: “If it is determined that student-athletes would have been ineligible during past competition, Notre Dame will voluntarily impose appropriate sanctions, report our findings to the NCAA, and await its independent review.”

So are vacated victories still in play? Kelly was pressed about that Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

“It hasn't been addressed to me in a formal setting and talked about as, ‘Here's the next step. Here's what we're going to do,’ ” Kelly said. “I haven't had that meeting with Jack Swarbrick about what is the next step, if there is a next step. We haven't had any concrete conversations about whether there is a next step. We haven't talked about it.”

But Kelly has been asked about the Frozen Five issue in some respect at every single meeting with the media since Aug. 15. He never avoided it, no matter how awkward of a position those higher on the ND food chain put him in. And he never let it take away from the focus of him or his team.

“ I just think that we've handled it with the right amount of respect and the right amount of understanding that we all have to attend to our own business,” Kelly said of the Irish players. “We miss our teammates. We care for them, but yet we have our own lives that we have to move on.

“Our guys clearly understood that and they're here to get a degree and play football for Notre Dame. So I think we balance that out as a group. We have very good leaders that we're able to continue to move that message forward through the group. And I was really proud of the way they've handled it.

“The easiest thing would be for them to be out on social media taking a side. They've stayed away from doing that. They've handled themselves with great maturity in a very difficult situation.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Defensive end Ishaq Williams will not play this year but would like to return. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)