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Claypool reflects on moving on from setbacks and disappointing losses

| Friday, November 22, 2019

Senior wide receiver Chase Claypool has been part of a Notre Dame football class that has had a unique run.

Their freshman year was a 4-8 disaster that saw both coordinators get fired and Brian Kelly pushed to the brink of his job. In the two years since, the team has been in constant College Football Playoff contention, reaching the promised land last season before being blown out in the Cotton Bowl against Clemson.

Claypool has been a constant in all of this, progressing each year and improving his play just like the program has. Playing across from Miles Boykin, he caught 639 yards last season, a mark he looks poised to smash this season with 256 yards through just three games. Claypool gave credit to some graduated players for mentoring him early in his career and showing him the path to being an impactful wide receiver.

“[Former Irish wide receiver] Corey Robinson was the main guy who stuck out,” Claypool said. “He was a medical redshirt when I was a freshman. He taught me the playbook and told me how important it is to do each thing right and learn all of the plays, while having a good attitude about everything. [Former Irish wide receiver] Miles Boykin now is keeping touch with me even though he is in the NFL. Those two guys have been pretty good leaders.”

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior wide receiver Chase Claypool catches a touchdown pass during Notre Dame’s 23-17 loss to Georgia on Sept. 21.

Now that he is a senior as those two once were, Claypool said he has a different perspective on the program than he once did.

“I understand that everything means a little more. Everything meant the same in prior years, but now it’s kind of a realization that this is my last year and every little thing counts,” Claypool said. “I’m just trying to take that [as a] factor and let the guys know that every little thing we do on the practice field is going to translate to the game field.”

Over his four years, Claypool has heard the criticism of Notre Dame football that has occurred in the media, especially after games like Miami in 2017 and Clemson last year. When discussing how many members of the media dismissed the Irish as having no chance against Georgia, he acknowledged people are hung up on the Clemson game but said the team has learned from its experiences.

“I wasn’t surprised — I think a lot of people were hung up on the game against Clemson, and maybe the game against Louisville,” Claypool said. “I knew what we were all about, just based on the practices here. I think we’re going to be able to carry that momentum [from Georgia] throughout the year. We have a different type of urgency. We can’t start slow, we can’t give up any big plays. We really tightened down on the little things.”

As the team seeks to build on its game against Georgia, Claypool and the offense are receiving much needed reinforcements. Junior tight end Cole Kmet had a dominant return in Athens, and the team is expecting junior wide receiver Michael Young and sophomore running back Jahmir Smith to be healthy against Virginia. Claypool is enthusiastic about what these returning players can do for both the offense and his own game.

“All the pieces are coming together, it’s kind of exciting,” Claypool said. “Once everyone comes back, which is pretty soon, it opens up avenues we have not explored yet. Now that Mike is back and Cole is back at tight end, it adds versatility to our offense. That only helps me out and everybody on the field out.”

That versatility will be needed as the team faces three ranked teams in Virginia, USC and Michigan in their next four games. It is often a challenge for teams to come down off playing an emotional game like Georgia and coming up short. After the loss to Miami in 2017, the Irish slumped through their remaining schedule before their bowl game, beating Navy by seven in a game they were favored to win by 20, and losing their final game at Stanford, eliminating themselves from New Year’s Six bowl contention.

Claypool said there will be no such letdown this year, as the team respects what Virginia has and is prepared to compete.

“We’re pretty aware of Virginia’s talent on defense,” he said. “Looking from my perspective, they are going to come into this game flying around, especially because they’re undefeated and ranked. It’s a game they can use to prove themselves, just as it was for us against Georgia. We are expecting some high energy from that team, we’re going to match up for sure.”

The Virginia game is the next piece of what will come together as Claypool’s final season. He hopes this season will help his class leave a standard of excellence behind as an aspiration for future Notre Dame football players.

“The standard of playing — most of all being fast and physical — I think that has to be an identity that Notre Dame receivers carry on through the next few years,” he said. “If I can leave that legacy it would be pretty cool.”

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