Notre Dame WR Austin decides its time for the next football challenge; Lenzy set to return

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin Jr. (4) scores a touchdown during the 2022 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

That didn't take very long.

Earlier this week, wide receiver Kevin Austin, Jr., was asked how he would approach the offseason. Specifically, if he would take his time in deciding whether to return to Notre Dame for another year in 2022 or start a new chapter in his football career.

Austin gave the standard wait-and-see/not-know answer.

"I'm going to take my time and figure out what I'm going to do," he said.

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That time turned out to be roughly all of 24 hours after Notre Dame lost to Oklahoma State, 37-35, on Saturday in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. On Sunday afternoon, Austin took to Instagram to thank his family and his coaches and his teammates and the Notre Dame community, then closed by saying that he was "beyond excited" to declare for the 2022 NFL draft.

Meanwhile, teammate and fellow wideout Braden Lenzy posted on Twitter Sunday night that he would indeed be returning to the Irish program for his senior season.

The 5-foot-11, 181-pound Lenzy was Notre Dame's fifth-leading receiver in 2021's regular season with 32 catches for 350 yards and three touchdowns. 

In Saturday's Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State the Tigard, Oregon native was targeted a team-high 15 times, hauling in seven catches for 60 yards, the longest being 17 yards. 

Notre Dame’s Braden Lenzy (0) braces to hit Oklahoma State's Korie Black (4) during the 2022 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Austin's final season was his best, one where he could finally show the depth of talent in his pass-catching toolbox. In his final game Saturday against Oklahoma State, Austin caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted by quarterback Jack Coan 13 times.

He was one of three Irish to finish with over 100 receiving yards and was close to a game-breaker at wideout as anyone on the roster. It's a role he insisted he took seriously.

 "I mean, in my mind, it's always to dominate my opponent, the man standing in front of me," Austin said last week of his mindset. "I feel like every play is a one-on-one. I never try to lose a one-on-one. Every time I go out on the field, I try to dominate."

Austin made his first career start in the 2021 opener at Florida State, where he announced his arrival with four catches for 91 yards and his first career touchdown. His best game came against Navy with six catches for 139 yards and a score.

Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin Jr. (4) tries to get past Oklahoma State's Tanner McCalister (2)  during the 2022 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Austin is the third Irish to bypass a chance to return to school for the NFL. Safety Kyle Hamilton and running back Kyren Williams both declined to participate in the New Year's Day bowl because of pro aspirations. Hamilton is considered a likely Top 10 pick — maybe even Top Five. Williams could be among the first five running backs selected over the first two days.

Austin's pro outlook is a little more cloudy. He looks the part. But he hasn't always played the part.

He twice broke his left foot in 2020, which limited him to one catch for 18 yards in two games. He also missed the 2019 season as a sophomore while serving a never-clearly-identified/explained suspension.

Over 25 career games at Notre Dame, Austin caught 54 passes for 996 yards and seven scores.

A 6-foot-2, 215-pounder out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Austin leaves Notre Dame with his degree. He was a Top 100 prospect coming out of high school and considered among the nation's Top 10 wideouts

With Austin leaving, Lenzy figures to become a bigger factor in the Irish passing game, along with sophomores-to-be Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Deion Colzie. Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, Jr., also both might return.

Lenzy has played in all three of his seasons in South Bend, catching 11 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2019 and seven passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in an injury-shortened sophomore season.

More decisions made, to be made

Also expected to make stay or go football decisions, maybe this week and maybe sooner than later are current Irish center Jarrett Patterson and defensive end Isaiah Foskey.

Foskey posted a cryptic message on social media Sunday afternoon that read, "I’m doing what’s best for my family and I. You’ll know soon.''

The Athletic reported Monday that a decision from Foskey likely is coming Saturday.

It's already been a busy player movement time for Notre Dame since the season ended late Saturday afternoon. In addition to Austin announcing for the NFL, punter Jay Bramblett and rover linebacker Paul Moala announced via social media their plans to transfer. So will offensive lineman Quinn Carroll and defensive back Caleb Offord.

Safety Houston Griffith announced Monday that he will return for a final season. Griffith entered the transfer portal last offseason before returning in 2021. Also coming back is reserve tight end George Takacs.

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