Notebook: NCAA denies Ishaq Williams' appeal

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Three hundred and seventy-seven days after Ishaq Williams’ enigmatic football career took its most unforgiving turn, the former five-star prospect from Brooklyn, N.Y., has finality at last.

Just not the kind of finality the would-be fifth-year senior was hoping for.

Unlike teammate KeiVarae Russell, there won’t be a chance at redemption for Williams in the aftermath of his 2014 academic suspension that started with him and three teammates being pulled out of practice Aug, 15, 2014, as the school announced an internal academic dishonesty investigation.

Safety Eilar Hardy joined the group in limbo two weeks later.

Williams was readmitted to Notre Dame in June and attended classes this summer, but he needed clearance from the NCAA to be re-added to the Irish football roster.

“We heard back from the NCAA on Ishaq Williams and his appeal was denied,” Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly said Thursday after practice. “He will not compete for Notre Dame. I think Ishaq knew that it was going to be an uphill fight there, but where he never wavered was coming back to school and getting his degree.

“The silver lining here is he is in school, and we’re very optimistic that he’ll be able to finish his degree here in the short term.”

Williams, a projected starter at defensive end in 2014, thus ends his 35-game college career with one start, 45 tackles, six tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and enough promise athletically that there could still be peripheral interest from NFL teams next spring.

His fallback hope, from a football standpoint, was that if the NCAA denied his appeal to play, that he’d at least be allowed to practice with the scout team against the Irish offense. But the NCAA isn’t allowing that either, per Kelly.

“He has a locker,” Kelly said of the 6-6, 284-pounder. “We will provide him with the opportunity to work out … and we’ll provide him with the facility here to do that. This was his last chance of eligibility.”

Personnel matters

• Senior running back C.J. Prosise (hip flexor) was back to full speed in practice Monday and sharing No. 1 reps with junior Tarean Folston.

An unexpected benefit of Prosise being out was how much advantage freshman running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams took of the increased exposure and opportunities.

“We feel going into the Texas game (Sept. 5) that Josh could even hold up in (pass) protections,” Kelly said. “And that’s hard to do as a true freshman going into the first game of the year.”

No. 1 tight end Durham Smythe (hamstring) also returned to full speed this week.

• Kelly said that freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush, No. 3 on the depth chart heading into the Sept. 5 season opener, will continue to do the bulk of his work with the varsity offense rather than with the scout team — the same strategy Kelly took with now starting QB Malik Zaire when he was a freshman third-teamer.

• Freshman defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, the sensation of spring practice, hasn’t hit the proverbial freshman wall, per Kelly, as he stays on track to tag-team with sophomore Daniel Cage at the top of the nose guard depth chart.

“There have been some of the dips there that you would see with a freshman, but not great dips,” Kelly said. “I would say that he has done a good job of fighting off some of those and has maintained a high level of play for a true freshman.”

Another pleasant surprise in that equation, replacing injured starter Jarron Jones, has been a surge from Cage.

“Down to 307 pounds (from a listed 325 last season) and really moving well,” Kelly said. “And his volume continues to grow. So with him and Jerry, that’s been really big for us.”

• The safety position has brought a smile to Kelly’s face almost every day since a tumultuous 2014 came to an end for that position group.

Thursday was not one of those days.

“If you were out at practice today, (it would have looked like) we were playing with nine players and two orange cones,” he said.

“Eye discipline and communication. It was just a bad day today. We’ve had a lot of good days. Today just wasn’t a great day for our safeties.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Ishaq Williams (left), here watching Notre Dame Pro day with football director of strength and conditioning Paul Longo last March, found out this week he'll be a spectator during ND's 2015 season as the NCAA denied his appeal to play. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)