Notebook: Brian Kelly Says Notre Dame Football Safety Kyle Hamilton Is ‘Night And Day’ With Leadership Ability, Strength
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Notebook: Kyle Hamilton ‘Night And Day’ From Freshman Year In A Few Ways

Brian Kelly tried to quell the Kyle Hamilton excitement in training camp last summer. He didn’t want too much hype about a freshman who had yet to see the field in a college game and played a position with two returning starters.

Tuesday’s tune from Kelly during a Zoom press conference about Notre Dame’s star safety was entirely opposite.

“He was a freshman who was emerging and certainly made a big splash early on,” Kelly said. “He’s physically much more mature. He has a presence about him. He has exhibited leadership qualities already.

“I would say night and day. That would be the best way to describe Kyle Hamilton.”

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Notre Dame sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton against New Mexico in 2019
Head coach Brian Kelly complimented Hamilton’s growth as a leader and a locker room presence. (Photo by Andrew Visockis)

If night is earning Freshman All-American status, then the ceiling for day seems unimaginable. Theoretically, at least.

Hamilton is listed at 6-4 and 216 pounds, but numerous hints this summer indicate he is more than 220 pounds. He’s an obvious starter this year after averaging 32 defensive snaps per game in 2019 behind starting safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. He made them count, with a team-high four interceptions to go with six passes broken up and 41 tackles.

His 2020 role is a natural position of leadership. None of Notre Dame’s other five safeties have started a game at that position for the team. Graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor is a newcomer, while Houston Griffith, DJ Brown and Litchfield Ajavon have played reserve roles. Only in the last couple weeks did sixth-year senior Shaun Crawford move from corner to safety.

Kelly, though, cautioned against running with the notion Hamilton’s actual performance will look night and day from his freshman self. That would be difficult to do. After all, he allowed 74 receiving yards all year and a 1.3 opponent NFL passer rating when targeted. It’s hard to produce more impressive numbers than those. Still, there are tackling improvements to make, and anything can happen when the snap count doubles.

“Does that mean he’s going to be that much better a football player?” Kelly said. “I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. He certainly shows up in scrimmages and in seven-on-seven.

“Off the field, he’s stronger and he has a presence about him in our program.”

Freshmen In Front Four?

Notre Dame wants to deploy eight players in its defensive line rotation, two-deep or more at every position. Six of those are fairly clear — starters Daelin Hayes, Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Ade Ogundeji, plus interior linemen Jayson Ademilola and Jacob Lacey. The competition for the other two spots may have a couple more bodies than originally thought.

Kelly sees freshmen Rylie Mills and Jordan Botelho as capable contributors this season, the former at three-technique tackle and the latter at vyper. Each was a four-star recruit and an early enrollee.

“The guy who stands out is Rylie Mills,” Kelly said. “He’s ready to play this year. Really good pass rusher at his size, 6-6. He has some unique traits to him. He can make an impact. Really good football player. Jordan Botelho, really twitchy, closes well, has a good IQ for the game.

“Those two guys have really stood out and can play some football for us this year.”

Mills would presumably need to force his way into the rotation with Ademilola and Tagovailoa-Amosa. Botehlo’s competition is with Isaiah Foskey, who could play either defensive end spot, and Ovie Oghoufo.

Notre Dame signed two other freshmen defensive linemen, nose tackle Aidan Keanaaina and strong-side end Alex Ehrensberger. Kelly said their path to playing this year is less clear.

“Aidan and Alex are more in the developmental stages,” Kelly said. “They’re coming on, doing some good things. But they also have some guys in front of them.”

Team Speed Impresses

Much like the preseason Hamilton discussion last year, Kelly tried to calm the talk of the 2020 Notre Dame defense being as fast as any one the Irish have fielded in his 11 years. He didn’t run with the bait when asked if it was indeed the fastest of his tenure, but he acknowledged it has its share of standout moments.

“There are times you can see it on display,” Kelly said. “We close. We arrive at the point of contact with a different sound. We’re going against each other, so sometimes for me, I’m in a different position where I want both the offense and defense to do well at the same time.

“There are times out there where I look at it and go, ‘That’s very impressive.’ There is speed on this defense, there’s the ability for some collisions that are really impressive. We’ll see how that measures up to some really good teams in the ACC.”

Notre Dame held scrimmages in the stadium Friday and Saturday. The Saturday one featured about 50 plays, and the defense impressed.

“We had some guys on Saturday that can close, that play with speed,” Kelly said. “There’s a physicality to the group on defense.”

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