SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As a way to break up the early-summer doldrums for Notre Dame football followers, one could hardly have done better.
Kyle Hamilton, the uber-talented junior safety with the otherworldly ball skills, recently retweeted a meme from a writer for the Irish-oriented website “One Foot Down.” It depicted a torn-out sheet of notebook paper above a photo of a quizzical-looking Tommy Rees.
“Play Kyle on offense,” read the four-word message.
Hamilton tagged Rees, second-year offensive coordinator for the Irish, along with a shrug emoji.
This simple gesture received 575 likes on Hamilton’s Twitter account (@kham316), which has nearly 6,000 followers. Considering Hamilton was recently named a first-team selection to the Walter Camp Preseason All-America team, that number is surprisingly modest.
Rees, the Lake Forest product who played quarterback for Notre Dame as recently as 2013, played along. He tagged Hamilton in his response from @T_Rees11, adding “(Y)ou know we’ve been on this way before now … talk to your man!”
And then Rees tagged recently hired defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman (@Marcus_Freeman1).
Freeman, who was playing linebacker at Ohio State as recently as 2008 and was a fifth-round pick of the Bears in 2009, quickly got in on the act. Freeman posted a GIF of pro wrestling’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
At first SCSA tosses his head back in laughter. Then he closes his mouth and turns, well, stone-cold serious.
Freeman, the big-ticket offseason addition after a fast rise at the University of Cincinnati, tagged his fellow coordinator and added both thumb’s up and thumb’s down emojis with a lengthy ellipsis in between.
Let the record show all of that horseplay took place on June 9, nearly three full months before Notre Dame’s season opener on Labor Day weekend at Florida State. Fall camp for the Irish probably won’t start until around Aug. 1, so that leaves plenty of time for rampant speculation about how much time (if any) Hamilton could see this year on offense.
A seasoned skeptic might point out if there were anything to the message-board fodder, Notre Dame’s hip coordinators wouldn’t be joshing about the possibility on social media. What’s more, Hamilton missed all of spring practice after undergoing ankle surgery in January, so the last thing Notre Dame needs is to add extra strain by prepping him on both sides of the ball.
Then again . . .
Hamilton was a menace in all phases while becoming a four-star recruit at Marist School in suburban Atlanta. As a senior, Hamilton had 38 receptions for 804 yards (21.2-yard average) and seven touchdowns.
Former Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly, who starred at Marist School three decades ago and saw Hamilton play several times in high school, has made no secret of where he thinks Hamilton could make the biggest impact at Notre Dame.
“I truly think his best position is wide receiver,” Mannelly said late in Hamilton’s freshman season. “He would be fantastic in the red zone.”
At 6-4 and 219 pounds with speed, agility and deceptive strength, Hamilton projects as a future NFL first-rounder, perhaps as soon as the spring of 2022.
Why not take full advantage of his game-changing ability while he’s still on campus? Especially for an offense that must replace not only three-year starting quarterback Ian Book but his bookend receiving combo of Ben Skowronek and Javon McKinley.
Jordan Johnson, the much-hyped receiving prospect from St. Louis, transferred to Central Florida after getting little opportunity this spring. That leaves Rees scheming about ways to split tight end Michael Mayer and running back Kyren Williams out wide to create big-play ability on the perimeter.
Even if it’s just in the red zone, where Notre Dame has struggled in recent years, Hamilton could be a valuable weapon for likely starting quarterback Jack Coan, the grad transfer from Wisconsin.
“It’s about playmakers, not plays, in the red zone.”
How many times has Brian Kelly said that the past few years? Well, in Hamilton, the Notre Dame coach has the sort of skeleton key that could mask any number of deficiencies on a roster that must compensate for the loss of nine NFL draftees this past spring.
Why not play the Hamilton card on offense here and there and see what happens?
Shrug emoji, indeed.