Notre Dame’s Holistic Approach Felt By Jordan Botelho
This is a tale of two former defensive edge players recruited by Notre Dame in the last 10 years — and a third in Jordan Botelho who is completing his freshman season this spring.
The first was Aaron Lynch, the most touted pure pass rusher signed by the Fighting Irish since the turn of the century. Those skills were showcased when he was feted as a first-team Freshman All-American while leading the 2011 Notre Dame team in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (14).
When it was football season, Lynch was in his full glory. But once football ended, Lynch was miserable at Notre Dame, from homesickness to climate, etc., and it was having a negative impact on him and some teammates.
He left the program that following spring semester and transferred to in-state USF. After sitting out a season, he played one more year in college before turning pro as an eligible junior and getting drafted in the fifth round.
Football defined Lynch at the time, and he’s benefitted from it financially despite temporarily retiring last year. Although not the superstar future Pro-Bowl caliber player he was projected to become during his freshman season at Notre Dame, Lynch has been a solid role player, appearing in 81 NFL games (starting 22), while recording 22 sacks.
The second was Daelin Hayes, a Rivals five-star recruit in 2016 despite injuries and a family matter sidelining him most of his last three years in high school. He learned early that football can be taken away at any point of his life.
That is why he chose Notre Dame. Football was integral to him, but it was the holistic selling point of the school that was more important to him.
“It was not only for the football aspect but to be refined as a young man on the field, off the field and spiritually,” reflected Hayes last month right before Notre Dame’s Pro Day on March 31.
“The first goal I had when I stepped on campus was to become a captain, and I was able to achieve that. Another goal I had was to be able to impact the community around me, and I was able to achieve that as well. And obviously the football aspect, that came full circle as well.”
Like Lynch, Hayes is staring at a future NFL career, but he also recognizes there is a finite element there. In two of his final three seasons he helped Notre Dame make the College Football Playoff, but he also had to sit out 2019 because of another shoulder injury — and this past season he wasn’t even sure there would be football because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I reflect on my time at Notre Dame, this is why I chose to come here,” he said. “I’m grateful for how things shook out this year because it really was a testament to our buy-in, our traits. Coach Kelly preaches to us to be smart, gritty, to have laser focus, to always have attention to detail and to have a great attitude. Our team embodied that and it really showed.”
Which brings us to Botelho. The consensus four-star recruit arrived as a bit of a cross between Lynch and Hayes.
Like Lynch, the Hawaiian native Botelho — the Cover 2 Manti Te'o Award winner as the best player in the state — possessed an edge to his personality and was deemed one of the most violent strikers in the nation on the field. Unfortunately, an off-the-field altercation his senior year even led to getting suspended from playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Like Hayes, though, he also put a premium on academics — posting a 3.59 cumulative grade-point average at Honolulu St. Louis — and was not consumed by just football. He noted the “education and networking” as a major factor in his decision while also considering Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and USC, among others.
“I know that a degree from Notre Dame is special and I’ll be taken care of after I graduate,” Botelho told BlueandGold.com. “That was a big factor.”
An early enrollee in January 2020, Botelho’s assimilation into the Notre Dame culture was rumored to be not smooth while making appearances on the “bad decision” chart of the coaching staff. Like everyone else on campus, Botelho was sent home in mid-March when COVID-19 became a world crisis.
When the football team reconvened back on campus in June and Botelho’s choices in life continued to violate protocol, he was sent back to the Islands again by the staff to ponder his goals for the future.
“Jordan had a long way to go in maturity and accountability,” explained defensive line coach Mike Elston, who is now in his 18th consecutive year on head coach Brian Kelly’s staff. “The best thing for him was he was sent home. He realized that we’re here about a holistic development.
“This isn’t about just you getting sacks on Saturday, which he’s going to be able to do because he’s a very talented player — but not to compromise the rest of our group and Coach Kelly’s culture inside the program.”
After some time away and a reality check, Botelho opted to return and “had a few bumps in the road” before having a come-to-Jesus moment with Elston. By August, Botelho was becoming one of the top-5 standouts in the freshman class during training camp.
“Really twitchy, closes well, has a good IQ for the game,” said Kelly while singling out Botelho in the preseason.
Although Botelho played only 18 snaps at the defensive end position that had a glut of talent, he started on special teams and excelled with his ferocity, highlighted by a touchdown off a blocked punt versus South Florida.
“I shared a personal story with him, and honestly from that moment forward Jordan has just turned the corner,” said Elston of his time with Botelho after returning from his temporary exile. “He’s not on any lists of bad decisions, he’s taking care of his business off the field, in schoolwork.
“He’s not a finished product yet but he is definitely … the maturity is showing through. I’m super proud of him and love him for it. The connection we have, because we’ve gone through the trials and tribulations together and more to come, but he’s a very special young man and he’s made a lot of growth and I’m excited for him.”
Playing behind junior Isaiah Foskey at vyper, the 6-2 ½, 248-pound Botelho will be more of a regular on the 2021 defense because of Hayes’ graduation. In the meantime, Hayes offered a final piece of wisdom.
“There’s no entitlement … it may not play out the way you want it to play out,” said Hayes of football. “But just because you work hard, that doesn’t mean the chips are going to fall your way. It may take three, four, five years, you never know how long you might be in your grinding process. You do so and you stay the course. You persevere and you remain resilient.
“But that in a lot of ways shaped my decision to want to attend a school like Notre Dame where I was going to be refined on the field and off the field.”
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