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Kelly announces seven captains for 2019-2020 season

| Saturday, August 10, 2019

Irish head coach Brian Kelly announced seven football captains for the upcoming season Saturday morning on Twitter ahead of the team’s first practice since returning from preseason camp in Culver, Indiana.

Quarterback Ian Book, wide receiver Chris Finke, safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, offensive lineman Robert Hainsey and defensive linemen Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara were announced as captains in a video that included several leaders from previous Irish teams, including Manti Te‘o, Drue Tranquill, Sheldon Day and Brady Quinn.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Wide receiver Chris Finke takes the handoff from quarterback Ian Book during Notre Dame’s 36-3 win over Syracuse in 2018 at Yankee Stadium. Both players were named captains Saturday for the 2019-2020 season.

With the exception of Finke, a graduate student, and Hainsey, a junior, the remaining five selections are all seniors. Having seven players as captains matches the previous program-high that was set in 2017. However, then-quarterback DeShone Kizer‘s decision to enter the NFL Draft ultimately resulted in a six-person unit.

One of the major takeaways from Kelly‘s announcement was the selection of Book, who became the first quarterback named to an official leadership capacity under Kelly. After redshirting his freshman season, Book primarily played backup to starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush over the next season and a half. However, four games into his junior season, Book got the starting nod against Wake Forest and ultimately led the Irish to their first College Football Playoff appearance, averaging 242.3 yards per game along the way. Sophomore Phil Jurkovec is expected to handle second-string responsibilities, but all reports indicate there‘s little debate as to who the “go-to guy” is this season.

Similar to Book‘s steady rise in the program, Finke has made his name as a former walk-on who became a key target for quarterbacks throughout the last four seasons. He averaged nearly 44 yards-per-game last season and handled all punt returns for the Irish. Finke — along with senior receiver Chase Claypool — will be expected to help lead a young corps following the loss of receiver Miles Boykin and tight end Alize Mack to the NFL, as well as junior tight end Cole Kmet after he suffered a broken collarbone earlier this week.

A two-star recruit out of high school, Gilman started his collegiate career with the Navy Midshipmen. After sitting out the 2017 season due to NCAA transfer rules, he made a name for himself as a gritty defensive player and leader, cracking up 95 tackles, five pass break ups and two interceptions.

Elliott emerged similarly as a stout defensive player in the secondary, leading the team with four interceptions, two of which came in a 24-16 win over Ball State.

”It‘s good just to see both of us out there. He‘s the leader and we both are leaders in different ways and we love being out there with each other so it‘s good …,“ Gilman said of the selection of two safeties to the captain‘s unit.

As both Gilman and Elliott were starters last season, they will be expected to lead a talented but young secondary unit. Even more, they will be expected to shoulder even more playing time than they already were as the already sparse safety unit is rendered even thinner by the announcement that sophomore safety Derrik Allen is entering the NCAA transfer portal. However, with returning cornerbacks Troy Pride Jr., Donte Vaughn, Shaun Crawford and highly-touted freshman safety Kyle Hamilton also in the secondary, Gilman and Elliott won‘t bear the weight of the defense alone.

For Gilman, much of the responsibilities that being a captain brings lies in setting the standard for the underclassmen.

”I know how it is coming into a new program, been to two programs now,” he said. “[I can] just be a guy that they feel comfortable with.“

Hainsey, a four-star rated offensive lineman out of high school according to Rivals, won a starting spot as a freshman and has been commended for a strong work ethic throughout his football career. As a junior, he now looks to lead a veteran group that could compete for the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line unit in the country. On the other side of the trenches, defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem will hope to help a defensive front that lost interior lineman Jerry Tillery and linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te‘von Coney to the NFL.

”We have some of the best defensive ends in the country, there‘s no secret about that. It‘s a blast going against those guys in practice. You get to work every play and it just makes you better,” Hainsey said when asked about the advantage of practicing against a top-caliber defensive unit. ”… It‘s a great way to learn my weaknesses from guys like that, because if I learn them now and can correct them then they won‘t be a problem.”

Okwara, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, led the Irish with 12.5 tackles for loss and tied Tillery to lead the team with eight sacks. Kareem tied Tillery for the second-most tackles for loss on the team with 10.5 and recorded 4.5 sacks and five pass breakups. Okwara and Kareem have both placed an emphasis this offseason on improving their technique and recording more sacks.

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