Pro Day notebook: Ishaq Williams' comeback picks up steam

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Had the contextually stupefying numbers and stunningly fluid movement not come with an equally convincing internal makeover, Ishaq Williams’ Pro Day splash Thursday would likely have lacked the staying power to evolve into anything more than a taunting reminder of what could have been. 

And now?

“I don’t feel like anything is impossible,” said the former five-star recruit whose last college game action unfolded at Yankee Stadium in late December, 2013.

After Thursday, the 6-foot-4, 253-pound defensive end prospect may have company in that notion.

Even his former coach, Brian Kelly, marveled Thursday at the Loftus Center at how much Williams looked the part of an NFL Draft/training camp hopeful.

His 4.83 40 time was much slower than he was purported to have run as an aspiring outside linebacker at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., just before enrolling at Notre Dame in January of 2011. But it was only .01 second slower than former Irish teammate Everett Golson ran (4.82) at ND’s Pro Day.

And it was faster than the 40s logged by coveted defensive end draft prospects Carl Nassib of Penn State (4.84), Joey Bosa of Ohio State (4.86) and Kevin Dodd of Clemson (4.86) at the NFL Combine in late February at Indianapolis.

Then when you add in the fact that Williams missed two years of football because of first an ND-imposed suspension in 2014 for academic dishonesty, then the NCAA’s refusal to even let him practice with the team in 2015 after he had been reinstated academically, the numbers really pop.

His 10-foot standing broad jump, for instance, would have tied for fifth-best at the combine, an event to which he and six other of Thursday’s 17 Pro Day participants weren’t invited.

“It’s been a great journey,” said Williams, who said he is nine credit hours away from earning his Notre Dame degree. “I learned so much about myself and I’ve developed as a person. It’s just great to be back out here with the opportunity to chase my dream.”

Why he didn’t chase it harder in the first three years on campus is a long chapter of immaturity and intermittent focus he says he has put behind him.

He’s also stopped wondering why the NCAA never gave him the green light to return to college football.

“I just focus on what I can change,” he said. “That’s above my pay grade.”

The next step is a workout in his native New York, then he’ll wait to see what else Thursday’s workout may have generated.

“I thought football was over for a while,” he said. “But my family and friends were supporting me. And I just got back on my horse and got back to work.”

Faces in the crowd

A large contingent of former Notre Dame players — some currently on NFL roster — returned to campus Thursday to support the current group hoping to hear their names called when the draft takes place April 28-30.

That group included Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zack Martin, Braxston Cave, Trevor Robinson, Chris Watt, Darius Fleming, DaVaris Daniels, Conor Hanratty, George West, Kyle McCarthy and Aaron Taylor.

Among the 71 NFL reps from 31 teams were head coaches Jim Caldwell (Detroit) and Mike Mularkey (Tennessee). The general managers in attendance comprised Bob Quinn (Detroit), John Robinson (Tennessee) and Ryan Grigson (Indianapolis).

Soon-to-be Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Javon McKinley was in from California and took in the proceedings with a large contingent of current players.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day’s mom Carol Boyd, a darling of the Showtime Series — A Season With Notre Dame Football — also made the trip. Known for her booming catchphrase, “That’s My Baby” during games and open practices, Boyd kept silent when her son and others were performing Thursday.

However, when she perceived her son doing well in position drills, she did unleash a celebration dance of sorts.

Golson lauds Kizer

Everett Golson knows DeShone Kizer, and he also understands the challenges that accompany playing quarterback at Notre Dame.

Golson, the former Irish quarterback who transferred to Florida State prior to the 2015 season, watched from a distance as Kizer passed for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns, while running for a school record 10 scores and starting 11 games.

On Thursday, Golson was asked for his reaction to Kizer’s sudden ascendance.

“Wow. Wow,” Golson said with a grin. “He’s growing up, for real. He’s really performing. There are certain things that you see in a guy from being young, but he surpassed everything that I thought. He’s doing a great job leading the team and really just taking control.”

A year after Golson battled with talented lefty Malik Zaire for the starting quarterback job at Notre Dame, Kizer currently finds himself locked in a similar struggle. And while he didn’t predict an eventual winner, Golson was certainly impressed with Kizer’s rapid growth since his arrival in South Bend.

“I always thought he had that leadership capability, but the position that he was in, he couldn’t really shine,” Golson said. “Him coming out (after Zaire’s injury) and being forced into that, that’s a hard thing to do. You don’t really bank on Malik going down.

“You have to be ready. They have the motto ‘Next man in,’ and he was the next man in, and he was ready. He was prepared and he really balled out, man. So my hat’s off to him.”


WR Chris Brown — 40: 4.44, 20 Shuttle: 4.35, 3 Cone: 7.37, Vertical: 33.5, Broad Jump: 10-10, Bench: 14.

WR Amir Carlisle — 40: 4.46, 20 Shuttle: 4.24, 3 Cone: 7.39, Vertical: 35, Bench: 17.

DT Sheldon Day — Bench: 26.

DB Matthias Farley — 40: 4.45, 20 Shuttle: 4.21, 3 Cone: 7.13, Vertical: 33, Broad Jump: 10, Bench: 21.

LB Jarrett Grace — 40: 4.75, 20 Shuttle: 4.22, 3 Cone: 7.39, Vertical: 32.5, Broad Jump: 9-6, Bench: 26.

RB C.J. Prosise — 20 Shuttle: 4.32, 3 Cone: 7.19.

DB KeiVarae Russell — 40: 4.43, 20 Shuttle: 4.0, 3 Cone: 6.89, Vertical: 38.5, Broad Jump: 11-2.

DB Elijah Shumate — 20 Shuttle: 4.1, 3 Cone: 7.06.

LB Jaylon Smith — Bench: 24.

OL Ronnie Stanley — 20 Shuttle: 4.69, Bench: 24.

QB Everett Golson — 40: 4.82, 20 Shuttle: 4.25, 3 Cone: 7.25, Vertical: 32, Broad Jump: 9-6.

DB Eilar Hardy — 40: 4.61, 20 Shuttle: 4.12, 3 Cone: 7.09, Vertical: 35, Broad Jump: 9-8.

DE Ishaq Williams — 40: 4.83, 20 shuttle: 4.36, 3 Cone: 7.51, Vertical: 31, Broad Jump: 10, Bench: 25.

*WR Will Fuller, OL Nick Martin, DE Romeo Okwara and OL Matt Hegarty did not test but did participate in position drills.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

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)