On Monday, Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Jack Kiser was on the Scout team for the Fighting Irish. By Saturday evening, Kiser made his first career start, led the Irish in tackles, recorded the first two TFL of his career, and was handed the game ball by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to a raucous reaction from his teammates. That qualifies as a rollercoaster of a week for a kid who didn’t even play linebacker until he arrived at Notre Dame last year.
“You always have to be ready,” Kiser told the media following Saturday’s win over South Florida. “Playing on the Scout Team, your goal is always to make it up and get to the next level. So when I found out, the mentality was just like ‘alright, let’s go.’
When Kiser found out he was starting, makes his performance on Saturday even more impressive. “We knew early in the week that there was potential that I could play, and then this morning is when that news finally came, and it solidified that.”
He found out he’d be making his first career start just hours before kickoff. He responded with a team-high 8 tackles, including 2 TFL and a quarterback hurry. He also had a crucial third-down stop of South Florida quarterback Jordan McCloud with an impressive open-field tackle on South Florida’s second drive of the game that helped set the tone early.
Kiser found himself in the lineup because Notre Dame learned that both Shayne Simon and Marist Liufau were unavailable for the contest. The top two BUCKs were among eight players that Notre Dame announced were unavailable just hours before kickoff.
Despite the late notice, Kiser credited his defensive coaching for how he could step off the Scout team and into the starting lineup with ease. “I knew the gameplan. That’s one thing Coach Lea does a really good job during the week – making sure every guy in the room knows the gameplan no matter if you’re going to Scout team or not. So when I got the news I was like ‘alright, its time to play,’” he said after the game.
Kiser also noted that the players he stepped in for this week were encouraging along the way. “That whole linebacking corps, that’s such a great group,” he said. “There are so many leaders in there that want everyone to succeed, and they want everyone to do well. So when Shayne Simon and Marist (Liufau) go down, that sucks, and you don’t want that to happen to anybody, but they’re texting me like ‘this is your time, let’s go.’ That means a lot.”
For Kiser, yesterday was a rapid acceleration of his progression at Notre Dame. He enrolled at Notre Dame last year as a lightly recruited linebacking prospect who hadn’t played the position before. “In high school, I was a quarterback/safety, so day one when I stepped here, I knew I had to get more physical. I knew I just had to get more reps and more experience at linebacker playing that close to the line.,” Kizer explained yesterday.
“Through camp, and spring ball was cut short, but just watching film and being around those guys, physicality has gone up, awareness has gone up. Overall, I think I still have room to improve in everything. That was my first game playing defense so there’s a lot of improvements still left.,” he acknowledged.
A small-town kid from Indiana comes to Notre Dame after being lightly recruited and makes the transition from safety to BUCK linebacker. Hmmm, where have I heard that story before?
The Indiana product spoke about what it meant to him as a local kid making his first start for the Irish. “Notre Dame is the peak of the mountain, right? In terms of college football – especially in Indiana,” he said. “Wearing the gold helmet, just to be on the team – those are dreams of many kids here in the state of Indiana. To put the helmet on, walk down that staircase, and then get on that field. It’s surreal.”
Kiser didn’t just step on the field, though; he excelled on it. “To actually take live snaps and contribute to the defense and contribute to a win. That’s amazing. Then to get the game ball? You just don’t think things like that will happen to you. It’s about the guys in the locker room,” he said.
When Kiser did get that game ball, the locker room erupted. “It’s just confirmation that all that hard work that you put – working in the shadows – the guys see that. It was just great. It was awesome to hear that,” he said of his teammates’ reaction.
We don’t know how long Notre Dame will be without Liufau or Simon, but we do know that it looks like the BUCK position is in fine hands until they return at a minimum. Kiser also showed Notre Dame fans that the future is very bright for him. As he acknowledged himself, he has a lot of room to improve still. If he continues on the path he’s on now, he will have a lot more in common with Drue Tranquil than their backgrounds and paths to Notre Dame.