Notebook: Details clouding Ishaq Williams' possible return to ND

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

In capital letters came the text message from Shaun Williams that his son, Ishaq, DEFINITELY wants to return to Notre Dame.

Just how realistic that return might be for the suspended Irish defensive end and what it will look like if it actually happens is convoluted by dangling details, not the least of which is the NCAA having final say in whether Williams will be game-eligible in the fall of 2015.

“What we do know is Ishaq is back in Brooklyn, and he has a job,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said of the senior earlier this week, along with confirming the NCAA’s role. “He is not taking classes. We lost touch with him for about three weeks. We want what’s best for him.”

Williams’ target to return to Notre Dame from a university-imposed suspension remains June, for the summer term. That is also when cornerback KeiVarae Russell has vowed to repatriate with the ND football team, and Kelly acknowledged last month the junior from Everett. Wash., is on track to make that happen.

"Ishaq has a higher bar to meet, but he is trying to work through that as well,” Kelly said last month. “Ishaq's is a much more complicated situation."

Williams, Russell, linebacker Kendall Moore and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels were pulled from the Irish roster on Aug. 15 as part of the school's academic dishonesty investigation. Backup safety Eilar Hardy joined them in limbo when he was added to the probe on Aug. 29.

Only Hardy, of those five, returned to play in the 2014 season. He participated in ND's final five games of the season, making nine tackles. Russell and Williams are the only two in play to suit up for the Irish in 2015.

Hardy said he will transfer to Bowling Green in May, after getting his ND degree, for his fifth and final season of eligibility. Moore’s eligibility lapsed at the end of the 2014 season. And with degree already in hand, he’ll make a run at getting into an NFL camp.

The career backup linebacker will get his next chance to impress at ND’s Pro Day on March 21. Daniels, who left a season of eligibility on the table to enter the 2015 NFL Draft, also plans to audition for NFL scouts, coaches and personnel types at Pro Day.

Williams, a projected starter for the 2014 season before falling into limbo, has one season of eligibility remaining since he did not redshirt earlier in his career. A grad school-style transfer, with immediately eligibility at another FBS school, isn’t open to him at the end of the spring semester, since he won’t have yet secured his degree.

He could transfer down a level, to an FCS school, for example, but the NCAA’s ruling on his game-day eligibility would presumably follow him there.

The NCAA’s jurisdiction in Williams’ possible return only affects his game-day status. It’s possible he could return, finish his degree work at ND, and practice, condition and lift with the team without a guarantee of being able to play in the fall.

Despite Williams having made just one career start and with a modest one career sack in his ND career, the converted outside linebacker is still very much on the radar of NFL teams, though certainly with much to prove. The former five-star prospect’s production has yet to come close to matching his promise.

All of that is very back burner where Shaun Williams is concerned. Getting the Notre Dame degree is priority No. 1.

"They don't hand those out to everybody,” the player’s father told the South Bend Tribune in November.

"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."

Hegarty departing

Notre Dame’s roster congestion loosened a bit Wednesday, with offensive lineman Matt Hegarty’s announcement he’ll spend his fifth and final season of eligibility somewhere other than ND.

The 6-foot-5, 295-pound senior from Aztec, N.M., started 10 games at center for the Irish in 2014 after starting the season as a backup guard. He made one start at guard, in game 3 of the season against Purdue, before Irish head coach Brian Kelly shuffled all but left tackle Ronnie Stanley in a bye-week makeover on the offensive line.

The interior of the line still struggled with consistency even after the move. Nick Martin, who shifted from center to guard in late September because of torn ligaments in his snapping hand, figured to return to center in the spring.

Hegarty’s comeback from a stroke, suffered late in the 2012 season, and subsequent surgery to repair small holes in his heart was perhaps the best backstory on the team. But with prodigies, such as Quenton Nelson, coming of age, Kelly couldn’t guarantee a starting role for Hegarty in 2015.

“My focus has been to pour myself into everything that I have done at ND,” Hegarty said in a statement he released to ESPN.com. “I have worked hard and have always done everything that was asked of me.

“Recently my coaches informed me that they wanted me to change positions (to guard). They also explained that with many younger players in the wings, they wanted to develop them more heavily in the rotation — a need that I understand and appreciate.

"Unfortunately, I have already had to miss a precious amount of football battling back from my stroke, and I value every rep and opportunity going into my final year of college ball that much more. My goal is to contribute this season, continue to develop my skills and pursue my dream of playing in the NFL.

“Because of this goal, I have asked for a transfer to play at another school where I can contribute more on the field. Notre Dame has amassed formidable depth on the O-line and have many very talented players to fill all positions.”

Hegarty doesn’t figure to be the last of the grad school-style transfers. Kelly, with a roster that projects well over 90 once most of the freshman class arrives in June, has until the first day of training camp in August to get to the NCAA-allowed maximum of 85 scholarship players.

The Irish start spring practice on March 18.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Notre Dame defensive end Ishaq Williams' father said the senior still wants to return to Notre Dame, but Williams (11) remains in limbo. SBT File Photo