Noie: Scout team quarterback Chase Ketterer gives Notre Dame needed looks for Navy

Tom Noie
ND Insider

Mondays during college football season often are a mystery for Notre Dame sophomore preferred walk-on quarterback turned running back turned scout team standout Chase Ketterer. 

One week, the former New Prairie quarterback might be assigned the jersey number of a running back for that Saturday’s opponent. He’ll run the rest of the week on scout team to give the starting defense as good of a look as possible. The next week, Ketterer might be a wide receiver. Or go strictly to the walk-on grunt work of special teams. Sometimes, he’s back to his football roots at quarterback. 

Notre Dame sophomore Chase Ketterer works to maybe one day earn a spot on special teams after a standout high school career as a quarterback.

Ketterer learns of his assignment and where he will work the rest of the week when he arrives at the Guglielmino Center, looks in his locker cubicle and sees what jersey is assigned to him. The rest of the week, he's that player.

“If it’s a red jersey in there, I’m a quarterback that week,” Ketterer said Tuesday in a rare opportunity for a walk-on to do post-practice media. “If it’s blue, running back or wide receiver. I really don’t know.” 

Come Monday of this week, Ketterer knew as No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1) prepared for its Saturday home game against Navy (2-4). Ketterer didn’t have to wonder on his walk to the Gug. He didn’t have to guess what position he might play. He just didn’t want to see a red jersey in his cubicle, a signal to everyone on defense that he’s off limits (i.e. not to be hit). 

He wanted the jersey with the No. 1 on it. That would mean he would spend the week as Navy starting quarterback Tai Lavatai. He wanted it to be blue. That would mean that not only would Ketterer run the option, but he’d be hit in the option. One time, it would be defensive end Isaiah Foskey bearing down on the 5-foot-11 3/8, 202-pound sophomore from nearby New Carlisle. The next, it was defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola giving him a fine, how-do-you-do. 

Ketterer was active and involved in just about everything this week. He loved it. He needed it. 

“I would’ve been upset,” he said, “if they put a red jersey in there.” 

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This week was like none other for the Irish as they prepared to play an option team for the first and only time this regular season. Everything they know about defense this season went out the window. It no longer was about playing pass-happy teams like the previous two weeks in USC and North Carolina. It was about staying disciplined and assignment correct against the always-tricky, never-easy option. 

It’s a difficult scheme to defend; it’s a difficult scheme to run. Not just anyone does it. Typically, the third- or fourth-string quarterback, void of meaningful reps during the week, often run the scout team offense. Except this week. The job was Ketterer’s, a former standout high school option quarterback who racked up some serious numbers. He moved to running back in preseason. This week, he was a quarterback again. 

An option quarterback. 

Tuesday’s practice started around 4 p.m. Ketterer and a couple other option specialists were on the practice field by 3 doing walk-throughs of Navy’s offense. 

“It’s filled with a lot of stuff,” he said. 

Stuff that Ketterer knows, maybe better than any Irish. Pause reading this for a minute and hold up your hand. Left or right, it doesn’t matter. Study it. Look at the tendons and the veins and the knuckles and the fingers. Looks familiar, right? Looks today like it did yesterday. Like it will tomorrow. 

That’s option football for Ketterer. 

“I kind of feel like I know the triple option like the back of my hand,” he said. “I’ve been running triple option probably since fifth grade.” 

Notre Dame sophomore walk-on Chase Ketterer was hard to handle when he was an option quarterback during his high school days at nearby New Prairie.

A heck of a high school quarterback

Promoted to the starting quarterback as a junior, Ketterer ran a different version of the option his last two years at New Prairie. It was more power read with Ketterer diagnosing defenses out of the shotgun. Many times as a senior, he’d survey the situation at the line and call the play right there. It often had him running for chunk plays, and running into the end zone. 

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Ketterer carried 307 times for 2,496 yards and 33 touchdowns his senior season in 2019. He averaged 8.1 yards per rush and 192.0 per game. He ran for at least 100 yards in all 13 contests as New Prairie finished 11-2 and won a sectional championship. 

He also grabbed the attention of a certain Irish head coach. Playing in the Northern Indiana Conference meant Ketterer played against South Bend Saint Joseph, where Brian Kelly’s youngest son, Kenzel, was a defensive lineman. Watching his son play one year, Kelly also noticed Ketterer doing what he did in a career that saw him run for 5,494 yards and 82 touchdowns. 

“Chase caught my eye,” Kelly said. “I really loved the way he competed. I loved his athleticism. He’s a really valued member of our football team.” 

Ketterer’s college football options were limited. A few Ivy League schools showed early interest. Same for Mid-American Conference schools. The only school that was serious was Valparaiso. Until Notre Dame offered a preferred walk-on spot. 

“Once I started talks with Notre Dame,” Ketterer said, “it was always Notre Dame ride or die.” 

Ketterer committed in February, 2020, enrolled at Notre Dame and joined the football program. He went from someone who seldom left the field during games in high school to someone who never has stepped on it in college. That was difficult. 

“Coming here, you have to kind of put your pride into something else,” Ketterer said. “We don’t play on Saturdays, but during the week, who gets everybody ready to play? We take pride in that, knowing that we do have an impact in the game, even though we’re not on the field.” 

Ketterer carries the walk-on's dream of one day seeing that field, hopefully as he continues to work his way up the special teams depth chart. Maybe he can run down on kick coverage. It’s a goal he works toward while continuing to work. Anywhere. Everywhere. 

Considered an option specialist by the coaching staff, especially this week, Ketterer considers himself a football player. He’s good at the option, but he doesn’t limit himself to only the option. 

That’s why he’s a running back one week and a wide receiver the next. That’s why he’s served scout team quarterback duty since Brendan Clark announced last month plans to transfer. Kelly guessed that Ketterer handled “probably 80 percent” of scout team work at quarterback the last couple weeks. 

“He’s done a really, really nice job,” Kelly said. 

Ketterer knows no other approach. 

“It’s anywhere they need me,” he said. “Pretty much anything my body will allow me to do, I’m out there trying to do it.” 

Chase Ketterer basically called his own plays during his senior season at New Prairie High School in nearby New Carlisle.

Just wanting to do a job – any job

With Navy not on the schedule last season for the first time in forever, there was no need for Notre Dame to prep for the option, and no need for Ketterer to run it. With Navy rotating back on this season, Ketterer and a core three others – a fullback and two wingbacks – have drilled since as far back as summer on the option. Getting the reads right. Knowing when to give it to the fullback. Knowing when to keep it. Knowing when to get the wingbacks involved. The first couple weeks of fall camp, that core option group would run it for a period or two in every practice. It then went on the shelf until recently. 

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Everything was live this week. That allowed Ketterer a chance on one play to get up close and personal with defensive end Jordan Bothelo. Instead of handing to the fullback, Ketterer kept it. He looked up and saw the 6-3, 245-pound Bothelo in his grill. 

“The play happened so quick,” Ketterer said with a smile. “Coming from the backside, he instantly when I pulled it was in my face.” 

Ketterer was instantly on the ground – and happy about it. Late in his high school career, he had tired of running option, and told his high school coach (Russ Radtke) as much. Tuesday when he was picking himself off the turf, everything felt right again. 

“I miss getting hit,” said Ketterer, who took his share of shots in high school. “I haven’t been hit-hit since senior year of high school. It’s nice to get back to it.” 

Bothelo got the best of Ketterer on that play, though there was another Tuesday when Ketterer pulled the ball from the fullback’s belly, got to the edge, faked a pitch to the wingback and broke a big-gainer, just as he did at New Prairie. 

A busy work week for Ketterer ended with Thursday’s practice in Notre Dame Stadium. It also signaled an end to his time as option guy. He won’t play Saturday, but will be dressed out in his No. 27 uniform. Come Monday, he’ll be back to being a traditional quarterback or a running back or a wide receiver. Maybe some special teams. This has been his week to do more, but not necessarily to puff out his chest as if to say to the coaches, see, I can play. 

He’ll just keep playing. 

“That’s how it should be,” Ketterer said. “I like to let my play speak for itself. If they notice me, they’ll notice me.” 

Having spent 20 minutes with print reporters Tuesday —  also something he hadn’t done since senior year of high school — as a busier than normal night for him, being more involved in practice and media stuff and everything else. 

A tutoring session awaited, as did more film on Navy. 

“It’s definitely a busy week,” said Ketterer. 

He wouldn’t trade it for anything. The more Ketterer could do, the more he had to do, the better. 

HOW TO WATCH NOTRE DAME VS. NAVY 

Who: No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1) vs. Navy (2-6) 

Kickoff: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT 

Where: Notre Dame Stadium 

TV: NBC/Peacock 

Radio: WSBT (AM 960), WNSN-FM (101.5) 

Line: Notre Dame by 21 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI