Notebook: Notre Dame WR Braden Lenzy not deterred by freshman season on scout team
Braden Lenzy is used to moving fast.
On the football field and on the track, the Notre Dame freshman has built his reputation on speed.
But in his first football season with the Irish, Lenzy didn’t sprint his way into playing time. The former four-star recruit didn’t play in a single game for Notre Dame.
Practicing patience wasn’t easy, but Lenzy gained a greater understanding of the big picture by looking at the career arc of wide receiver Miles Boykin. As a senior in 2018, Boykin was Notre Dame’s leading receiver with 59 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. Before the calendar year 2018, Boykin hadn’t started a game in his Irish career.
Boykin, who redshirted his freshman year and caught six passes as a sophomore, made his first career start in the final game of his junior season at the Citrus Bowl, where he caught the game-winning, 55-yard touchdown pass. Boykin declared for the NFL Draft on Sunday.
“To do what he’s done in his first true year starting, you just have to trust the process and keep doing what you’re doing,” Lenzy said. “Keep grinding and one day it’s going to pan out for you. You just have to trust your team and do whatever you can to help out.”
Lenzy’s role this past season came on the scout team. He was unable to secure a spot on special teams which left him solely devoted to helping the Irish defense prepare for opposing offenses.
“I’m really proud of the scout team and what we’ve done,” Lenzy said. “I’m really proud of the team and the players that play on it. At the end of the day, we’re all Notre Dame. At the end of the day, we’re all going to wear the same jersey.
“It’s not some people’s time. It might not ever be some people’s time. But what’s special about this team is no matter what, you treat each other the same, because you went through those same hard summers and those same morning workouts.”
Since joining the Irish in June, the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Lenzy has gained 16 pounds. He’ll never have the size of Boykin or Chase Claypool, but he’s tried to learn from their physical play.
“Evolving as a football player in this redshirt season has been great for me,” Lenzy said. “Learning how Miles and Chase just pick the game apart in the film room and their strategies to become a better football player has been great. It will really help me come spring ball.”
Head coach Brian Kelly discussed the possibility of adding speed to Notre Dame’s offense with its freshman wide receivers a few weeks before the College Football Playoff semifinal. That didn’t end up happening in the 30-3 loss to Clemson, but Kelly, offensive coordinator Chip Long and wide receiver coach Del Alexander may have a hard time keeping Lenzy’s speed off the field next season.
At Tigard (Ore.) High, Lenzy recorded personal bests of 10.62 seconds in the 100-meter dash, 21.34 in the 200 and 47.52 in the 400. He plans to run track for the Irish this spring, but he’s focused on contributing to the football team next fall too.
“I want to obviously be on the field, but I’m going to keep working and do whatever I can,” Lenzy said. “If that ends up not being the case, I have to keep working. Whatever the team chooses to do is what will be best for the team. I’m not going to change my work ethic depending on whether I’m playing or whether I’m not.”
Many recruiting analysts pegged Shayne Simon as one of the top candidates to play as a freshman at Notre Dame this past season.
They were right. Only five freshmen played in more games than Simon, who saw action in nine games.
They were also wrong as Simon, a four-star recruit out of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep, barely saw playing time beyond special teams. Senior linebacker Asmar Bilal was able to hold off Simon in the competition for the starting rover spot.
Still, the 6-3, 222-pound Simon enjoyed learning the rover role in coordinator Clark Lea’s defense.
“It was great. It was fun. I love playing it,” Simon said. “It’s something I played similar to in high school. I’m used to doing a little bit of everything. Just learning from the guys, learning from Asmar, learning from coach Lea and all the people that could help me become a better player and a better teammate as well. It’s been a great opportunity.”
Simon’s most productive game came at Virginia Tech. He was inserted into a goal-line defense package that prevented Virginia Tech from scoring a touchdown despite reaching first-and-goal at the one-yard line. Simon, who finished the game with three tackles, combined with Te’von Coney for a tackle for a loss on third-and-goal.
“It’s crazy playing college football,” Simon said. “It’s a dream come true. Hopefully, I can continue to get better and better so my role can expand.”
Kevin Austin Jr. showed glimpses of his potential in his freshman season at Notre Dame.
The former four-star recruit could become a No. 1 receiver for the Irish in the future. But the 6-2, 210-pound target has a lot of work ahead of him. Austin said the biggest challenge in his first year at Notre Dame was learning the offense.
“We have such a broad, wide playbook with different concepts and different things that are incorporated in it that have freshmen guessing,” Austin said.
Austin, who joined Notre Dame out of Coconut Creek (Fla.) North Broward Prep, learned enough to see the field in 11 games this past season.
Austin caught just five passes but turned those catches into 90 yards. His first career catch came in the third game of the season against Vanderbilt. He caught two passes the next week at Wake Forest. Austin’s career-long reception went for 38 yards in a short catch and long run against Navy.
“Being a competitor, of course I want to play more,” Austin said. “I want to be more of a contributor for the team. But being in the process, being able to learn throughout the season, learning from the older guys and having them talk to me and teach me while I’m on the way is a great thing.”
Like Lenzy, Austin relied on Boykin and Claypool for lessons.
“Just being physical,” Austin said he learned. “Not everything has to be about quickness.”
Up and down for Bracy
Notre Dame needed TaRiq Bracy in its win over Pittsburgh.
The Panthers were picking on cornerback Donte Vaughn, who was in the lineup for an injured Troy Pride Jr., and picking up first downs. Then cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght replaced Vaughn with Bracy in an effort to limit Pittsburgh’s passing attack.
Bracy embraced the challenge and totaled seven tackles in his first extended stint with the No. 1 defense.
“Coach Lyght tells all the DBs, ‘Stay ready, because you don’t know when your time is,’” Bracy said. “I stayed focused, stuck to the game plan and it worked out well for me.”
Following the Pittsburgh game, Notre Dame used the 5-10, 170-pound Bracy at times in a nickel package with Julian Love sliding inside and Bracy playing on the outside.
Bracy, a former running back and defensive back at Milpitas (Calif.) High, said the season was a bit of a roller coaster for him personally. Adjusting to college football while balancing a Notre Dame education proved to be a challenge.
But he tried to prepare himself to be thrown in the game at any moment. Bracy finished the season with 18 tackles and one forced fumble.
“It’s hard from the jump. At my high school, I was used to playing all the time and being the main guy,” Bracy said. “It was definitely hard at the beginning. Knowing you’re in the rotation, you see the last play and you’re rooting for them, but you’re still waiting for your time. It’s been a transition, but I’ve dealt with it well.”
When Houston Griffith enrolled at Notre Dame last January, he made a connection with Shaun Crawford.
The freshman cornerback worked out a lot with the senior nickelback. Griffith didn’t know then that he’d eventually replace Crawford after he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in August. When Griffith (6-0, 205) was first moved to nickelback, Crawford offered notes about playing the position and being prepared.
“I’m really happy that he’s a guy I can trust and just talk to about anything,” Griffith said. “It was hard to see, but I know he’s going to come back and be stronger next season.”
Griffith and senior Nick Coleman were in and out of the lineup as Notre Dame’s nickelback throughout the season. Griffith, who Rivals ranked as the top Irish signee in the 2018 class out of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy, finished the season with 14 tackles, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry in 11 games.
“The challenge is working on technique,” Griffith said of playing nickelback. “You’re going in there on third down and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You just have to be prepared for anything.”