Sheldon Day has been a captain for Notre Dame for the past two seasons now, but it hasn’t been until the last few weeks that Notre Dame’s stout defensive end has really started to emerge as the leader of the Irish defense. Halfway through the 2015 season, it’s hard to name anyone else who has seized the leadership role more than Day though.
Sheldon Day was a captain for Notre Dame in 2014 after playing in the shadows of Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix for two seasons. The then junior was more a leader by example as a junior, however, as he grew into the role of a leader on what was a very young Irish defense a year ago.
A year later Day is once again a captain and halfway through the 2015 season, he is making his presence felt week in and week out and has emerged as THE leader of the Irish defense. Some might point to Joe Schmidt, the quarterback of the defense, as the leader, but when Notre Dame has needed a big play this year; it’s been Day that has delivered time and time again.
When the Notre Dame was gashed on the first drive of the game and was in need of a stop after the offense tied the game up, Day delivered. With navy facing a 3rd and 9 on the ensuing drive, Day came up with a huge tackle for loss knocking Reynolds down three yards behind the line to force a punt.
Two weeks ago with Notre Dame clinging to an eight point lead in the 2nd quarter against a pesky UMass team, Day came up with a huge sack to force a UMass punt. Ten plays later, Notre Dame scored a touchdown as time was running out of the first half to take a 35-20 lead and never looked back.
Making negative plays at opportune times and being disruptive has been Day’s MO this fall though. Day collected 7.5 tackles for loss in 11 games last fall and had 16.5 in his entire career heading into the 2015 season. Through six games, Day already has a career high with 8 and is on pace for 17 on the season (assuming the Irish play at least one post-season game and Day remains healthy).
Day also had just 1.0 sack as a junior in 2014 and 3.5 in his career. He’s got 2.0 already this season which would also put him on pace to eclipse his career mark this season alone.
Part of the reason for Day’s success in 2015 is the fact that he’s finally fully healthy. Day has been plagued with some nagging injuries throughout his career. The kind of injuries that might not have necessarily cost him a lot of games, but did cost him some effectiveness at times. “I think he’s in great physical condition. I think he’s healthy,” Brian Kelly said on Sunday. “He played with some injuries last year. And he’s just a committed player.”
The Notre Dame defense has had its ups and downs already this fall, but Sheldon Day has been bringing it every week. The senior who tossed around the idea of leaving early for the NFL last January, already has career highs in sacks and tackles for loss and with each week he is building a tape for NFL execs that shows a disruptive play making force.
“He wants to help this football team as a captain, and I think — he came back for a reason,” Brian Kelly said on Sunday. “He came back so this would be his best year and help Notre Dame and help himself, and I think he’s living up to all those things.”
Day’s decision to come back to Notre Dame was one of many reasons why many predicted Notre Dame to be a playoff run. Day’s coaches didn’t see his return for his senior season as a one way proposition though. According to Kelly, they wanted it to be a win-win situation.
“One of the things that we felt like we could do for Sheldon was to — in getting him back here was that we could get him stronger physically, increase a lot of his numbers so that they would reflect somebody that could get drafted higher, and I think that physical prowess is showing itself on Saturdays.”
That prowess we’re all seeing on Saturdays is going to ensure Day has every opportunity to play on Sundays. Before that, however, there is a lot of football left for Day at Notre Dame. If the Irish are going to indeed make a run at the playoffs, they will need Day to continue to play at the high level he’s been playing at and continue to be the on field leader he’s been thus far.