'I think I'm ready for it:' Braden Lenzy poised to be among Notre Dame's leaders at wideout
SOUTH BEND — With his track background, senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy has always prided himself on his conditioning.
But by the end of Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl 37-35 loss to Oklahoma State on Jan. 1, Lenzy was as tired as he had ever been after a game since arriving in South Bend.
"We were low on bodies, and we didn't rotate too much," Lenzy explained Friday. "That was probably the least we rotated (all season).
"The fact we threw like 68 times, there is a very big difference of playing the whole game and being a 50-50 pass-run team and being like a 75-25 pass-run team. I was running a deep ball what felt like every three plays and I know most of the time I am not getting the ball on those, so its like running wind sprints like the whole game."
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Lenzy finished with seven catches for 60 yards.
He recalls a couple of instances during the game where he asked former Notre Dame wideouts coach, Del Alexander for a quick breather, but was told he had to stay on the field.
In those moments, Lenzy was frustrated knowing he couldn't regain his energy, which could've assisted Notre Dame after falling behind in a second-half.
But looking back on that game he is humbled knowing he is now in a spot where Notre Dame's offense can't have him off of the field.
Lenzy is one of three Irish wideouts — along with seniors Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins Jr. — to announce a return for the 2022 season since the Fiesta Bowl. With the loss of Kevin Austin Jr, who declared for the NFL Draft, those three guys will be looked at as leaders at a position many will see as a weakness for the Irish heading into the 2022 season.
"I don't think I'll be the face," Lenzy said. "AD (Avery Davis) is my leader, my cap and we will follow his lead. I definitely anticipate a large role, for sure. I think I am ready for that and I stepped up this year."
Lenzy's 2021 campaign was a breakout year of sorts after entering the season with just 18 career receptions.
He battled multiple injuries in both shoulders, one in his left sustained during fall camp, another in his right before the Virginia game and another during Fiesta Bowl prep, which he revealed to media on Friday. But he still tallied career highs in receptions (32), yards (350) and touchdowns (3).
"I made a lot of improvements for sure as a technician," Lenzy said. "Still the weakest part of my game are the things I kind of improved on. I became a better catcher as the season went along. I struggled with catching the first four or five games sometimes. Around bye week after I came back I don't think I had any struggles catching after that."
With new wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey coming in from Baylor, Lenzy expects his game to make major strides.
"I think I am ready for it," he said. "I think I have taken the steps to take that leap."
Besides Lenzy, Davis and Wilkins, Lorenzo Style Jr. and Deion Colzie are the only other wideouts returning for the 2022 season who recorded more than two catches last season. The Irish also have Matt Salerno, recently put on scholarship, who had one catch for minus-4 yards last year.
There won't be much reinforcement coming via the Irish's recruiting class, having signed just one player at the position in four-star prospect Tobias Merriweather of Camas, Wash., who chose to not enroll early in South Bend.
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman, who has been active in the transfer portal, has yet to snag a wideout.
Because of these factors, Lenzy knows more production will be expected of him.
Going through another offseason in Director of Football Performance, Matt Balis' strength program will be critical for Lenzy to take that next step.
What does that look like? in Lenzy's eyes it's being stronger at the top of his routes, while getting quicker releases off of the line of scrimmage. Then, ultimately, combining his big-play ability with his savvy.
“When I take these final steps," Lenzy said, "I am excited to see what happens.”