Day set to return to Notre Dame for senior season

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Rebuilding Notre Dame’s defense just got a whole lot easier for Irish head coach Brian Kelly.

The team’s best defensive lineman, junior Sheldon Day, announced Saturday afternoon that he will be returning to ND for his senior season instead of going three and out and into the 2015 NFL Draft pool.

"After talking with my family, friends and coaches at Notre Dame, I've decided to return for my senior year with the Irish," Day said via prepared statement. "While the process leading up to this decision was difficult, ultimately my decision to return was easy.

“I love this school, my teammates and this coaching staff. I just felt it was in my best interest to play another year for Notre Dame.

"I believe we've got an opportunity to have a special season in 2015, and I wanted to be a part of that success. I was blessed to play in the national championship game as a freshman in 2012, and I want to do everything in my power to reach that stage again with my guys."

The 6-foot-2, 285-pounder from Indianapolis’ Warren Central High School was projected as a second- or third-round pick by most draft analysts, including Scott Wright of Day’s versatility buoyed his draft stock, while durability concerns put a drag on it.

Day had until Thursday, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft, to make his decision. Junior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining after receiving a medical redshirt year in 2012, is still mulling his future.

Should Stanley return, the Irish would bring back 19 starters for 2015, the most returning starters of any of the 65 Power 5 Conference teams nationally.

Last season, Kelly lost four early entrees to the NFL Draft. Nose guard Louis Nix was the only one who has his diploma. The others were defensive end Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back/kick returner George Atkinson III.

"It pretty much goes without saying that I'm excited to know that Sheldon has chosen to return for his senior year at Notre Dame," Kelly said. "Most importantly, this decision keeps him on track to graduate in May.

"He's an outstanding player, and makes a major difference on the field for our team, but Sheldon's impact goes beyond success on the field. His leadership as a captain in our program has been instrumental, and I look forward to him carrying this role into 2015."

Despite missing two games in November and a big chunk of a third because of a knee injury, Day amassed 40 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss, one sack, nine quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in 2014.

The Irish finished 71st overall in total defense among the 125 FBS teams and 72nd in rushing defense, both areas that took a big hit when Day was out of the lineup.

Day, majoring in management-consulting, is on pace to graduate in May of 2015.

"My dream of playing in the National Football League remains strong, but when I chose to attend Notre Dame three years ago, I planned on earning a degree from this university," Day said. "I'm only one semester away from reaching that goal.

“A diploma from Notre Dame is truly special, and ultimately, it wasn't something I was willing to possibly leave on the table.”


Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day, here celebrating a sack against Northwestern, announced Saturday he will be returning to ND for his senior season. (Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)