Sheldon Day left Warren Central High School in Indianapolis a semester early so he could adapt to the college game as quickly as possible.
Very wise move in retrospect.
Day, No. 2 in the balloting for the Mr. Football award in the state of Indiana behind quarterback Gunner Kiel, is in the running behind veteran right end Kapron Lewis-Moore for playing time as a true freshman. He’s been No. 2 on the depth chart since the spring, along with sophomore Chase Hounshell behind Stephon Tuitt at left end.
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“I feel like it’s a big advantage,” said the 6-foot-2, 286-pounder of his early-entry to Notre Dame. “It was the best decision I ever made.”
And a good one, too, for Notre Dame, which is looking for playmakers/bodies along the defensive front, particularly after the departure of Aaron Lynch to South Florida.
Day was credited with 55 tackles, 12 for loss, nine sacks and 12 quarterback pressures during his senior year at Warren Central. That earned him a spot among Rivals’ top 250 prospects and a No. 18 ranking among defensive tackles.
In Notre Dame’s 3-4 front, Day plays defensive end on the weak side of the line, which is a combination tackle/end with an outside linebacker off his right shoulder. It’s not the perfect fit. Day has the frame of a three-technique in a 4-3 alignment. But he insists he has no problem adapting his game to accommodate Notre Dame’s front.
“If I continue to learn my playbook and have a better understanding of the defense, I feel like I’ll be comfortable out there,” Day said. “Wherever they play me, I’ll be comfortable.”
Day’s two best mentors are Lewis-Moore, the massive right defensive end with 29 starts under his belt, and veteran left offensive tackle Zack Martin.
“It’s just great to have the opportunity to play behind Kap,” said Day, who participated in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Phoenix following his senior season at Warren Central. “He leads me, helps me with my hands, my key step…just the little things behind the scenes like if an offensive lineman does this, this is how I should defeat this certain block.
“When I watch Kap, I break down his movements. I start with his feet and then I move on to his hands. If he takes a step, that’s what I’m trying to mimic and trying to get better at.
“As for Zack Martin, me and him go at it every day. He’s great competition. I just love to compete, and Zack gets the best out of me.”
For Day, it’s all about technique. The days of physically manhandling offensive linemen are in the past at this level, at least as a raw rookie adapting to the college game.
“I played in Indiana, and I feel like Indiana ball is pretty good,” Day said. “The difference here is they’re a little faster and more physical. Other than that, it’s just another go-round.
“The keys are my ‘get off’ and quickness. Those are my strong points, and I feel that I’ve carried that over from high school. I’ve become more violent with my hands since I’ve gotten here.”
Asked about the fit at defensive end, Day simply smiles and says, “I feel like I’ll be able to compete.”
All day long, or at least until the path is cleared at right defensive end.