Notre Dame notebook: Taylor eyes Studstill's progress

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas —Bobby Taylor remains the answer to a trivia question — for now.

And while the 42-year-old former Notre Dame All-America defensive back and current athletic trainer in Houston gets a kick out of being the most recent Irish freshman to start at the free safety position for six or more games in a season, he’s eager to get a long look at Irish freshman free safety Devin Studstill.

Taylor was at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Sunday night for 10th-ranked Notre Dame’s season-opening loss to Texas. And Studstill’s first action in the game didn’t come until very late in the second quarter, but he stayed in the game and was on the field for ND's few stout bursts of defense in the 50-47 double-overtime defeat.

He was in line to start against the Longhorns after ND head coach Brian Kelly booted senior incumbent starter Max Redfield off the roster on Aug. 21, until a hamstring injury ate up a lot of Studstill’s important practice dates in August training camp.

That eventually nudged Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to start sixth-year grad senior and strong safety Avery Sebastian at free safety instead.

Studstill, a spring sensation as an early enrollee, still could end up being the first freshman to be a regular at free safety since Taylor’s 1992 season, and Taylor has a good idea of the challenges he’ll face if he does.

“Coming in it was tough,” Taylor said. “I mean coach (Lou) Holtz, he got on young players, just because he was trying to get you ready.

“I obviously had to learn everyone’s position as a young guy. And then as a young guy, I was still trying to get acclimated to playing big time football. And also I was kind of the older guys’ coach, because I made all of the checks, did all of that stuff.

“It was kind of strange, because off the field, they were bossing me around, But as soon as we stepped on the field, I could kind of boss them around a little bit.”

Taylor said starting in the opener would have been significantly more difficult than it was starting at midseason and beyond as he did.

“I would have tried my best, but I’ll admit it worked out for the best, because it gave me a chance to learn the system better and get used to playing against faster players than I did in high school.”

Taylor’s time at free safety was short-lived, however.

“In the spring of my freshman year, for whatever reason, coach Holtz wanted to put me at corner,” said Taylor, now married and father of sons ages 12, 3 and four months. “It felt like one of the worst days of my life — at the time.

“I was showing up at a scrimmage, and he was like, ‘Bobby, we’re just going to try you at corner.’ I hadn’t played corner since I was a sophomore in high school.

“I was like, 'Coach why you want to do that?’ He said, ‘Just trust me.'

“I never played safety in my life after that day. Never. I mean you get all these kids that feel like, ‘Hey, I’m pigeon-holed into a particular position. Lo and behold I’m a perfect example of sometimes you’ve got to trust the coaching. He was definitely right.”

Roster churn

In a burst of exuberance last week about returning to the field after a year’s absence, Notre Dame senior running back Tarean Folston attributed some of his strong drive to succeed was the simple fact that, “It’s my last year at Notre Dame.”

Folston, however, does have a fifth year available to him after qualifying for a medical redshirt last season. But more and more of ND’s elite players are thinking draft and not fifth year.

That helps explain why Notre Dame started the season with just seven players who started at least half of ND’s games last season. Since freshman eligibility was restored in college football in 1972, that’s tied for the fewest returning starters at ND with the 1975 squad that coach Dan Devine inherited from retiring Ara Parseghian.

Five draft early entrees, only two of whom were true juniors, contributed to a single-digit number of returning starters this fall, for only the third time in the 45 seasons.

And Brian Kelly has resigned himself to the notion that this may not be an aberration, given the current talent/development quotient and an accelerated academic pace for his players.

“Unless I drastically change the business plan … In other words, unless we start to slow down the hours they take in the summer,” Kelly said, “then that (early entries and large roster turnover) becomes a reality. Because they’re taking seven hours in the summer.

“Over three years that’s 21 hours, almost a full year now in the summer. I think the reality is we’re going to be a younger team, moving forward.”

Personnel matters

Senior linebacker James Onwualu was the first player to be honored with the rotating No. 1 jersey, a custom Irish head coach Brian Kelly started this season.

The weekly honor is to be given to the player who best represents the ideals of the Irish program on and off of the field.

• Junior wide receiver Corey Holmes got his first career start Sunday night in Texas, perhaps in part because No. 1 slot receiver C.J. Sanders’ helmet popped off on the opening kickoff return.

Six other Irish players got their first career starts for ND as well — cornerbacks Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, center Sam Mustipher, offensive guard Colin McGovern and safety Avery Sebastian, who had six starts in four years at Cal.

• Fifteen freshmen made the Notre Dame travel roster, including nine on defense.

That group comprised defensive ends Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem; safeties Devin Studstill, Spencer Perry and Jalen Elliott; cornerbacks Donte Vaughn and Julian Love; and outside linebacker Jamir Jones.

The offensive players were wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, running back Tony Jones Jr., offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer, and wide receivers Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley, while the special teams unit was represented by long snapper John Shannon.

• Speaking of Stepherson, all four players arrested Aug. 19 and charged with possession of marijuana made the trip, as expected. The others were cornerback Ashton White, linebacker Te’von Coney and running back Dexter Williams.

Williams, White and Coney all saw action on special teams in the first half.

• Sophomore wide receiver Chris Finke, recently awarded a scholarship, changed his uniform No. from 27 to 10.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Devin Studstill (14) during practice on Notre Dame Football Media Day Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN