Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey is a sleeping giant

The Irish sackmaster is turning heads — and turning in early.

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Isaiah Foskey

Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey (7) plays against Purdue during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Notre Dame defeated Purdue 27-13.

Michael Conroy/AP

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The lights go out early at the off-campus apartment Isaiah Foskey shares with fellow Notre Dame defenders JD Bertrand and Alexander Ehrensberger. 

The trio typically returns from practice around 8 p.m., then spends the next couple of hours powering through homework. That’s when their natural competitive instincts kick in. 

Those sleep-tracking Oura Ring that were issued to all Notre Dame players this year? It didn’t take long for the 7-1 Irish to turn that into another way to let their inner alpha dogs eat. 

“It makes you want to go to bed earlier,” said Foskey, the redshirt sophomore defensive end with a team-leading nine sacks. “We always compare: ‘How much sleep did you get? I got more sleep than you.’ ’’

Bertrand, the linebacker with a team-high 71 tackles, is usually the first to retire. He’s out by 10 p.m. 

Determined to get his regular eight hours of rest, Foskey is typically in bed by 10:30. That’s how he maintains his Oura. 

“It tells us everything: REM sleep, deep sleep, light sleep, how fast it takes you to go to sleep, your heart rate, lowest heart rate,” Foskey said. “I check it every morning on my phone. It’s like a competition.”

Senior linebacker Bo Bauer set the unofficial team hibernation record with 12 hours of actual sleep. 

“He was in bed for 14 hours,” Foskey said. “We were like, ‘How did you do that?’ I don’t think I could sleep for that long.” 

Maybe not, but a well-rested Foskey has translated into a highly productive, extremely versatile weapon for Marcus Freeman’s shape-shifting defense. With Foskey in the Vyper role, a hybrid position that sees the Bay Area product rushing off either edge and sometimes dropping into pass coverage, Justin Tuck’s 19-year-old school sack record is suddenly in jeopardy. 

Foskey needs 4½ more sacks to tie Tuck, the former Giants star and Super Bowl champion. 

“We use this word ‘freak,’ but he takes care of himself,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said of Foskey. “He eats right. He gets eight hours of sleep. He’s great to work with. He’s just got a great attitude every day.” 

Foskey, who spreads 260 pounds over his sculpted 6-5 frame, has revamped his diet with the help of the team nutritionist. He devours Nature Valley granola bars on the run and has even taken to the grilled zucchini Bertrand prepares for his housemates. 

An offseason workout with NFL All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald during a family trip to Los Angeles helped Foskey take his technical skills to another level. Foskey, who received his first college scholarship offer (from Kansas) as an eighth-grader, will consider entering the NFL Draft after this season. 

“He is so prepared, so when he comes to practice you can throw some stuff on him and he handles it very well,” Kelly said. “Some guys wouldn’t, but he does. There’s more than just this outward appearance of an athlete. He is really locked in and a smart guy that you can put some extra things on.”

A second-half shoulder injury briefly knocked Foskey out of last week’s victory against North Carolina, but he was able to return and is expected to be close to full strength this week against Navy. 

Terry Foskey, his father, served in the Navy, so the son is not about to miss out on this opportunity after the traditional series took a one-year COVID hiatus in 2020. Nor is Foskey going to cheat his body out of the rest it craves. 

“Now that I have the Oura Ring, I know if you’re in bed for 10 hours, you probably get eight hours of actual sleep,” Foskey said. “Last year I always went to bed thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll get eight hours of sleep.’ But thinking about it now, I got five or six hours.”

The soft-spoken Foskey offered another of his infectious laughs before noting an added benefit of his improved sleep pattern. 

“It also helps with recovery,” he said. “I feel like I recover a lot faster than I did last year. That’s why I really want to sleep all the time. I don’t really take naps now, but when I go to sleep I just go to sleep.” 

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