Notebook: Will Notre Dame be turning the corner with Shaun Crawford after all?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — On Friday night, grad senior cornerback Shaun Crawford sounded like a guy whose change of heart had him leaning toward coming back to the Irish football program for a sixth year.

On Saturday, a source told the Tribune it was another step closer to reality.

Paperwork is being filed with the NCAA to petition for the sixth year of eligibility. Given that Crawford missed two complete seasons because of injuries (2015 and 2018) and all but two games of another (2016), there’s doesn’t appear any basis for resistance from the NCAA.

“Just going through a season here. It’s like no other. The memories, the opportunities,” Crawford said Friday night after winning the Nick Pietrosante Award — recognizing courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and team pride — at ND’s Echoes 19 Awards show

“Earlier in the season, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just thinking about being here for five years already, just ready to move on and things like that.

“But throughout the season, just memories we’ve created, the opportunities that were presented. It’s something you just can’t move on from and so you just definitely want to take thought in the next step, and I definitely will.”

If Crawford does return, it takes some uncertainty out of a position group that appeared to be loaded with more of it than any other on the Irish team heading into 2020.

Sophomore TaRiq Bracy is the only one of the four certain returning cornerbacks who has played any high-leverage snaps in a college game. The other three are all freshmen — KJ Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford and converted wide receiver Cam Hart. All three are on track to redshirt.

Three three-star cornerback prospects are expected to sign National Letters of Intent with the Irish on Wednesday —Clarence Lewis of Middletown, N.J.; Caleb Offord of Southaven, Miss., and Landen Bartleson of Danville, Ky.

A fourth — Ramon Henderson of Bakersfield, Calif. — is a good bet to join them during the three-day early signing period this week.

Crawford would add quality to that quantity, not to mention toughness.

He heads into the Dec. 28 Camping World Bowl matchup between AP 14th-ranked Notre Dame (10-2) and Iowa State (7-5) with 25 tackles, including a tackle for loss, one interception and two pass breakups.

Crawford played in 10 games for the nation’s No. 5 pass-efficiency defense, starting seven — the first four and the most recent three games. He missed two games after suffering a dislocated elbow in a Sept. 28 victory over Virginia that included multiple torn ligaments.

The two games he missed — Bowling Green and USC — were the only two games in which Bracy started.

The Irish held their first bowl practice Saturday, and Crawford said he’s 100 percent recovered and pain-free for the bowl game.

“I love this university,” Crawford said. “I love everything they have to offer.”

More personnel matters

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Saturday he knows exactly which Irish players will be coming back in 2020 and which ones are not when pressed about seniors with fifth-year options, of which there are 10.

“I’ll leave it up to them to decide how and when they want it to be public knowledge,” he said.

Linebacker Jonathan Jones entered the transfer portal earlier in the week. Kelly acknowledged long snapper John Shannon won’t return either, instead taking a job in law enforcement in Evanston, Ill., after graduation.

As for players potentially skipping the bowl game, Kelly said that head count remains at zero after Saturday’s practice. Practice No. 2 is Sunday, with No. 3 coming Tuesday during final exams week. The Irish are scheduled to stage their first postseason scrimmage on Thursday.

“Everybody is going to play unless something changes,” Kelly said of the Camping World Bowl. “As of today, all of our starters that started in the game against Stanford (Nov. 30) practiced and participated.”

The reps Saturday leaned heavily in favor of freshmen and other reserves, by design. Kelly said freshman safety Litchfield Ajavon and sophomore wide receiver Joe Wilkins were two of the young players who caught his eye.

“I just wish he was healthier during the season,” Kelly said of Wilkins, a 6-foot-2, 194 pound North Fort Myers, Fla., product. “He’s got a nice skill set for us.

“He had a nice day today, in terms of just his overall ability to track the football.”

Curb your enthusiasm?

Senior safety Alohi Gilman said he’s fired up to play in a bowl game — just not perhaps the particular bowl game in which the Irish have been assigned.

Like a lot of the Notre Dame fan base, the Irish captain felt ND had done enough to earn a New Year’s 6 bowl berth.

“I was pretty disappointed personally,” he said. “That’s me, just as a competitor. I feel like we should have gotten a little more respect on what we did in the season. But it played out how it played out, and you’ve got to go out there and have fun and go get another win.”

Meanwhile, grad senior offensive guard Trevor Ruhland is already having fun with the matchup against Iowa State.

“Both my parents went to Iowa,” he said. “My dad played football at Iowa, and they hate Iowa state. So they’ve got a little bit invested in this game.

“But they’re a really good team and a good bowl, so we’re really excited. Can’t wait to go down there and have some fun, play a good football game, cap the year off and career off well.”

Botelho update

An altercation involving Notre Dame recruit Jordan Botelho will keep him from participating in two high school postseason bowl games, according to a report from Hawaii Prep World.

The Oct. 26 incident following a volleyball match between Hawaii high schools Kamehameha and Punahou resulted in a court appearance for Botelho, a four-star defensive end prospect in the 2020 class. Per the report, Botelho’s verbal exchange with a Kamehameha student during the match helped lead to an altercation between the two outside the gym afterward.

The incident is not expected to change Botelho’s status with Notre Dame, however, the Tribune confirmed Saturday with a source. He will sign with the Irish on the first day of next week’s three-day early signing period, Wednesday, and enroll early in January.

Botelho, a standout at Saint Louis School in Honolulu, hosted Irish head coach Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Clark Lea and special teams coordinator Brian Polian for an in-home visit on Dec. 3 and finalized those plans.

Saint Louis head football coach Cal Lee told the Hawaii Prep World that Botelho won’t play for the Crusaders in the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series game on Dec. 21 in Las Vegas. He also won’t participate in the All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio, Lee said.

“I talked to them about it. There are witnesses. Nobody jumped him or anything,” Lee said in October. “I just think, how the kids are, evidently they’ve been talking (on social media). Mouthing off. Botelho and this kid didn’t like each other. They were at the game, talking about, ‘Let’s go.’

“They went out there, the kid threw the first punch at Botelho, and Botelho hit him. (St. Louis linebacker Nick) Herbig said the kid came to him and he defended himself. I may be biased, but these guys can take care of themselves. They don’t have to go look for a fight.”

Lee did not suspend Botelho following the altercation. Saint Louis (12-0) capped its undefeated season Nov. 29 with a 45-6 victory over Kahuku in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I Open state championship.

Botelho was named as one of five finalists for the high school Butkus Award, which recognizes the nation’s best linebacker, his high school position. Uncommitted linebacker Justin Flowe out of Upland (Calif.) High recently won the award.

Staff writer Carter Karels contributed to this story.

Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford (20) tackles Stanford’s Michael Wilson (4) during the ND’s 45-24 victory, Nov. 30 in Palo Alto, Calif.