Could Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton actually add wide receiver to his 2021 role?

Tyler James
ND Insider
Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton (14) intercepts a ball during the Notre Dame-New Mexico NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Imagining Kyle Hamilton as a wide receiver doesn’t require too much creativity. 

Notre Dame’s All-American safety certainly has the size, speed and leaping ability that are valuable to the position.

The idea of the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Hamilton doing so for the Irish offense has long been bandied about on Notre Dame message boards, podcasts, blogs and social media. The conversation has even made its way into the hallways of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. 

That became clear in June when Hamilton, a junior, retweeted a photoshopped meme depicting Notre Dame fan and writer Greg Flammang passing a note to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees that read “Play Kyle on offense.” In Hamilton’s retweet, he tagged Rees and used the shrugging emoji. 

Rees responded: “@kham316 you know we’ve been on this way before now..  talk to your man! @Marcus_Freeman1.” 

Then defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman chimed in with a retweet of his own. He tagged Rees as well, used the thumbs up emoji, typed a series of periods and followed them with the thumbs down emoji. The tweet was accompanied by a GIF of former wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin laughing before a sudden switch to a serious, possibly even stone-cold, stare. 

The concept didn’t die there. 

“At first, I thought it was a big joke,” Freeman said. “I’m like, ‘Listen, guys, we're going to have a little Twitter fun but we’re not really talking about this.’  

“I think I’ve heard coach Rees walk by my office three or four times and say ‘Hey, man. Let’s get the best players on the field.’” 

Hamilton, who caught 38 passes for 804 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior at Atlanta’s Marist School, doesn’t expect his wide receiver career to go further than a running joke among him, Freeman and Rees. 

► More:Notebook: For Notre Dame OC Rees, the summer push to get better starts with himself

More:Part One: A conversation with Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick

“We have a great receiving corps and I would never want to do anything that takes playing time away from them, because I know how hard they work,” Hamilton said. “They're all on scholarship for a reason. 

“I’m not on scholarship to play receiver. I'm not good enough, but they definitely are. We have one of the best receiving corps in the country. They're going to do their job. 

“Just some friendly banter going back and forth. I played in high school and I miss catching touchdowns, but I don’t think it's going to happen anytime soon.” 

Notre Dame will enter the 2021 season with plenty of question marks at wide receiver. The unit lost its top two pass catchers from last season — Javon McKinley (42 receptions) and Ben Skowronek (29) — to the NFL. Returning grad senior Avery Davis (24 catches) is the only wide receiver who recorded more than seven receptions last season. 

Then two freshman wide receivers from last season — Jordan Johnson and Jay Brunelle — transferred to Central Florida and Yale, respectively, following spring practices. 

That means Notre Dame’s wide receiver production will likely rely on Davis and a quartet of seniors who haven’t been able to either stay healthy or play consistently: Kevin Austin Jr., Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III and Joe Wilkins Jr. 

Getting the best out of that group will fall on Rees and wide receivers coach Del Alexander. If Hamilton can help, Freeman doesn’t want to be the one to completely close the door. 

“Listen, if Kyle Hamilton’s going to get us points, great. I love it. Utilize him,” Freeman said. “But he has a job to do on defense, I’ll tell you that. You better make sure he does that too.  

“I’m a team guy. But that might cost Tommy too now in terms of they have some dudes that I want to utilize on our side of the ball too. So if we’re going to trade, we’ll trade.” 

Making sure Hamilton plays to his potential at safety will require him staying healthy too. Hamilton dealt with a left ankle injury for much of last season that wasn’t serious enough to sideline him a lot, but it did limit him. That’s why Hamilton opted to have surgery on his ankle in January and miss spring practice. 

All things considered, Hamilton playing wide receiver this season still seems more of a dream than reality. But if head coach Brian Kelly thinks it’s a smart move, anything could happen. 

“We’ll see what the boss man says about it,” Freeman said. “Me and Tommy can go back and forth with this, but there’s one man that’s making that decision and we know who that is.”

Notre Dame season preview

ND Insider will publish a comprehensive preview of Notre Dame football’s 2021 season. The content will appear in an 8-page special section of the South Bend Tribune on Sunday, Aug. 1, and will be online later this month at NDInsider.com. 

The print edition will include a feature on All-American safety Kyle Hamilton, 20 questions with head coach Brian Kelly, position-by-position breakdowns, freshmen to watch and more. 

NDInsider.com will also be the home for online-exclusive stories on running back Kyren Williams and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and season predictions from Eric Hansen, Tyler James and Tom Noie.

Don’t miss out on the best way to prepare for the upcoming Irish football season. 

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.