Back in class at ND, Ishaq Williams now plays the waiting game with NCAA

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

BRIDGMAN, Mich. — Ishaq Williams is a week into redemption, re-enrolled at Notre Dame for the first time since his obligatory withdrawal last October and with no assurance a return to football will accompany his resumed quest for an ND degree.

“He’s hopeful,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of the academically reinstated senior defensive end during a charity golf event for the Kelly Cares Foundation at Lost Dunes Golf Club.

“I’ve looked at the data. I’ve looked at the hurdles he has. I will submit the paperwork to the NCAA. We’re hopeful, but we’ve seen others who have not been as effective.

“I’ll go from pessimistic to cautiously optimistic, but I think we’re all on the same page, that he has some hurdles that he has to get over relative to being cleared for (football) eligibility.”

Williams, a projected starter at defensive end in 2014, and four others were suspended during and after ND’s academic dishonesty investigation that began last July was revealed to both the public and Kelly in August and concluded in October. Only senior safety Eilar Hardy eventually returned to play for the Irish during the 2014 season.

Hardy is now at Bowling Green, preparing to complete his fifth season of eligibility. Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels opted to enter the 2015 NFL Draft as an underclassmen and signed with the Minnesota Vikings last month after going undrafted.

Reserve linebacker Kendall Moore had exhausted his eligibility. Only standout cornerback KeiVarae Russell has a clear path to return to the football field for ND in 2015.

The senior, with two seasons of eligibility remaining, is currently finishing up classes from the spring semester in his home state of Washington. He is expected to return to ND and the football team next week, when ND’s freshman football players and most of the regular student population start summer school.

Williams did not attend classes at ND or anywhere else during the spring semester, per his father — Shaun —instead opting to get a job.

Kelly has long characterized Russell’s path back to football reinstatement as much less complicated than Williams’.

According to Kelly, Williams’ hurdles are strictly with the NCAA’s take on his situation and that the former five-star prospect from Brooklyn, N.Y., can’t do anything to change that.

“He could take 100 hours this summer, and it still would not influence his eligibility,” Kelly said. “It’s missed terms. It’s missed hours that has to do with the appeal.”

The 6-foot-6, 271-pound Williams, still under the one-year scholarship term that began last August, is able to take part in team activities this summer. That includes the nine offseason team activities (OTAs), which began Friday and are scattered throughout June, under the supervision of the coaching staff.

If reinstated by the NCAA, Willams has one season of college eligibility remaining. He has 45 career tackles and one sack in 35 games for the Irish, all but one of those as a reserve.

Kelly said that Williams made it clear that his priority is to get his ND degree, even if football never re-enters the picture for him.

“That’s what we thought about him, and all these guys when they were suspended,” Kelly said. “These are kids that understood that getting a degree from Notre Dame was much more important than playing.

“That’s why we’ve pushed hard to give Ishaq an opportunity back at Notre Dame, because he wanted to get a degree. We want to see that through. And he has our support, not only from football, but from our administration.

“Our administration has seen to it that once he was readmitted that he was going to get his degree.”

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Reinstated defensive end Ishaq Williams (11) is back at Notre Dame and enrolled in summer school, but the NCAA holds the key as to whether he'll be able to return to the football field for the Irish this fall. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)