Reserve defensive tackle Jacob Lacey plans to transfer from Notre Dame

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s bounty of defensive line options and a strategically placed bye week have cost the program a respected reserve in senior tackle Jacob Lacey.

Three weeks after his two-sack breakout performance in the win over Cal, the Bowling Green, Ky., product has entered the transfer portal with plans to relocate after the fall semester, coach Marcus Freeman said Thursday.

Lacey, who saw his defensive snap count drop from 25 against Cal to nine in the road win over North Carolina, preserves two seasons of remaining eligibility by taking his redshirt at the four-game limit. Slowed early in his career by a shoulder injury that eventually required labrum surgery and forced him to miss all of spring practice in 2021, Lacey is on track to graduate in December.

“Lacey was a great player,” Freeman said on his weekly Zoom teleconference with reporters. “Lacey did a lot of great things for us, but it’s a deep position. He made a decision that ultimately he felt was best for him and we respect it. We love Jacob.”

Redshirt freshman Gabe Rubio, who matched Lacey’s defensive snap count at UNC and drew raves for his improvement during training camp, will see his role increase as will Chris Smith, the Harvard grad transfer. Jason Onye, another redshirt freshman at a position Freeman said is "extremely deep," will move up from scout team to the varsity.

“The best thing about it is (Lacey) leaves here with a degree in his hand, and that’s what I want for these young men,” Freeman said. “If you decide to leave in hopes of going somewhere and playing more, don’t waste this opportunity to earn a degree from this university.”

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Defensive line coach Al Washington, in his first year with the Irish after replacing longtime position coach Mike Elston, offered praise for Lacey when asked about his diminished playing time against the Tar Heels after a five-tackle game against the Bears.

“It’s really specific to every week,” Washington said. “Lacey has done a phenomenal job. He’s a pro. He’s a great kid.”

Several of Lacey's Irish teammates offered their public goodbyes via Twitter tributes. So did Washington, who posted: "Lace Dog you will be missed in the room! Best of luck always here!"

Nixing the Knute act

Don’t expect any “Win one for the Gipper” speeches from Freeman when NBC’s cameras roll in the Irish locker room.

Asked about his pregame rituals, he ticked off his radio show obligation and a meeting with the officiating crew. However, the first-year coach downplayed any notion he might be channeling Knute Rockne, even after mock-raiding the legendary coach’s playbook for “Old 51” in a popular offseason TV spoof with the Manning brothers.

“There’s nothing really that you’re going to say the moment you walk out of that locker room that’s going to help them play any better,” Freeman said. “The performance is a reflection of the way we’ve prepared all week.”

Those words, while sensible and accurate, probably won’t be engraved alongside those of Rockne on the walls of Notre Dame Stadium.

That's not to say Manti Te'o, who will be part of NBC's pregame and postgame shows on Saturday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, won't get another chance at some point to fire up Freeman's team. The 2012 Heisman Trophy runner-up, who made a triumphant return to Notre Dame Stadium for the Cal game on Sept. 17, addressed the Irish on the eve of their first win of the Freeman era.

Reduced workload for Bryce McFerson

Strong-legged freshman Bryce McFerson has recovered from a strained right groin and hip flexor that caused him to miss the first four games.

Originally set to kick off, McFerson ceded those chores to freshman walk-on Zac Yoakam during pregame warmups at Ohio State. Harvard grad transfer Jon Sot is 14th in the nation in gross punting average, so McFerson will remain the backup as he focuses on punting.

“He’s finally healthy,” Freeman said. “I think we were probably having him do a little too much in terms of punting and kickoff. We’ll let him focus on punting right now until his body is in a position, after a year of training and in the weight room, to be able to handle punting and kickoffs.”

'Your body is your business'

Audric Estime, coming off a 17-carry, 134-yard breakout game at North Carolina, didn’t back off during the bye week.

“Some guys were limited because of some injuries, but I took all the reps that I could,” the redshirt freshman running back said. “I actually did more. I felt great.”

Estime hasn’t been asked to do this much since the COVID-impacted season of 2020, his senior year at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, N.J. In just eight games, Estime rushed for at least 160 yards every time and out and finished with 1,838 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns .

Along the way, the state player of the year learned the importance of rest and recovery to keep himself available in practice and games.

“Recovery is a huge aspect of the whole process,” Estime said. “You have practice. You have class. You have workouts. You have to put recovery in there because your body is your business. If you’re not able to go on Saturday, then that’s bad for the business.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.