Every season, players leave college for the NFL ranks, and every season another crop of young players rises up to take their place.
The Notre Dame Football program, led by head coach Brian Kelly, features some up-and-coming stars that have yet to hit their stride on the field. It won't take long once the games begin this fall, however, for these young men to become household names across the nation.
These players will emerge as the next batch of Golden Domers who will excel at the college level and eventually take their talents to the next level.
Jarrett Grace, Inside Linebacker
Grace has the unenviable task of following in Manti Te'o's legendary footsteps as the team's inside linebacker in 2013. Fans of the Fighting Irish should prepare themselves to start falling in love with this young man, however, because he has what it takes to become a star.
Studying behind Te'o for the past couple of years, Grace has learned much.
Joe Schad @schadjoe
ND MLB Jarrett Grace said Manti Te'o helped build his confidence and told him to "attack the field with a purpose."4/21/2013, 6:10:37 PM
Joe Schad @schadjoe
ND MLB Jarrett Grace (Cincy native) has studied Luke Keuchly (also Cincy) and said he also aims to be "tackling machine."4/21/2013, 6:12:06 PM
According to Sean Stires of IrishSportsDaily.com, Grace has impressed defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who said of his new linebacker:
He's got good speed and good change of direction. Intangibly he's got a great sense for where the ball's gonna end up. He's got a good feel in coverage. He's got a good feel for fitting the runs, so we're excited about what we have there.
Undoubtably, Grace will benefit from having Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt clogging up the lanes in front of him. He's as ready as he'll ever be to take over the role Te'o owned the past couple of years, and by all accounts he's ready to have a monster season in 2013.
James Onwualu, Wide Receiver
Incoming freshman Onwualu has a chance this year to make an incredible impact on this team's offense. A first-team All-State running back in high school, Onwualu is the most explosive playmaker on the roster right now.
Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com profiled Onwualu earlier this year and praised the young man's natural talent, intangibles and big-play abilities:
With natural size and speed (Onwualu trained daily, but never lifted weights), he was a powerful player that’ll only get bigger, stronger and faster now that he’s in a collegiate training program...Dangerous with the ball in his hands, even if he doesn’t have elite top-end speed.
With strong intangibles off the field, Onwualu was an early offer by the Irish coaching staff...With depth at running back and wide receiver not overflowing, finding a place for Onwualu should be easy enough.
An early enrollee, he's had a chance to get acclimated to the demands of Kelly's offensive scheme.
At this time, according to Rivals.com, Onwualu is behind starter T.J. Jones on the depth chart. Jones, while effective as a pass-catcher, isn't an explosive receiver. He caught 50 passes for 649 yards (13.0 yards per reception) last year and hauled in four touchdowns.
If given the chance to play, Onwualu would become a favorite big-play target for quarterback Everett Golson.
Ishaq Williams, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End
Jason McIntyre of TheBigLead.com recently mocked Williams to the Seattle Seahawks with the No. 32 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft. In response, SI.com's George Dohrmann suggested on Twitter that McIntyre hadn't watched much Notre Dame football in 2012:
George Dohrmann @georgedohrmann
Wait, @TheBigLead has Ishaq Williams going in first round of next year's draft? Someone didn't watch many ND games last year.4/29/2013, 9:55:01 PM
Perhaps McIntyre has simply been paying attention to what's being said about Williams heading into the 2013, rather than looking to the past.
Nix and Tuitt are the top defensive players for Notre Dame in 2013, to be sure. That said, don't be surprised if Williams ends up joining these two behemoths as a potential first-round pick for the 2014 NFL draft.
The former 5-star recruit out of Brooklyn hasn't been a factor for the Irish the past couple of years. He lacked the strength and technique to make his presence felt on to the field, and in two years he has only logged 28 total tackles.
That doesn't mean he's a bust, however.
Kelly likes to develop his players properly, and he doesn't play them until they're ready to shine.
According to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune, the time for Williams to shine could be now after speaking with Diaco:
"Ishaq is starting to come into his own," Diaco said of the 6-5, 255-pound junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. "I don't want to heap a bunch of pressure on him as it relates to the fall of 2013, but he's starting to learn how to prepare professionally in practice and in meetings."
"There's so much more effort involved in his play, so much more intensity," Diaco said. "He's playing lower. He got stronger. When he kind of unlocks now on a player in block destruction and tackling, and in his different jobs, even if it's just accelerating on push rush, it looks different. It's a more sudden, a more explosive moment, not only based on strength but also energy."
Should Williams come into his own as the player Notre Dame thought he'd become a few years ago, it's not inconceivable to think the team's defense could be even more dominant up front than it was in 2012.
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