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‘For the Brotherhood’: Irish defensive line coming together at right time

| Monday, November 2, 2020

Throughout the years, and particularly this season, Notre Dame’s offensive line has gotten much praise, and deservedly so. They are a dominant unit, ranked as the top offensive line in college football by Pro Football Focus. However, their counterparts on the defensive side of the ball have quietly been putting together a fantastic season.

One of the group’s unquestioned leaders is graduate student defensive end Daelin Hayes. After missing all but four games last year with a shoulder injury, Hayes had only 1.5 tackles and no sacks coming into Saturday’s game.

A lot of people have been making a big deal about my production as far as being a pass rusher,” Hayes said after the game. “There’s been wins, there’s been times where I’ve been close to the quarterback or I’ve had good rushes, it’s just [that] sometimes it doesn’t play out, those plays don’t come to you.”

They certainly came to Hayes on Saturday. He finished with 4.5 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles and was awarded the game ball by head coach Brian Kelly.

“Today, just happened to be a day where those plays came to me, and I was excited,” Hayes said. 

Hyosub Shin | Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Irish graduate student defensive lineman Adetokunbo Ogundeji dives for a tackle during Notre Dame’s 31-13 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Kelly added that the plays to Hayes were immensely important to the overall game.

“Elevating the play of Daelin Hayes might be singularly as important as anything that happened today,” Kelly said postgame. “He was at a different level of play.”

Kelly also praised his performance in practice. 

“He’s been single-minded in his focus for the last month or so in terms of his craft, and I’ve just seen a different player when it comes to wanting to be a dominant player in football,” he said. “He has made a choice — a conscious decision — that he wants to be a great player.”

Despite the lack of production, Hayes said he knew his hard work would eventually pay off.

“In practice, it’s just being consistent day in and day out, busting your butt, working your craft, honing in on your craft, extra meetings, spending extra time with our coaches, anything that you can do to give yourself an edge come Saturday, it always shows up in some form or fashion,” he said. 

Hayes’ leadership has been instrumental for a group that has been one of best in college football. In the last three games, the defense has allowed just 16 points. Hayes attributes much of that success to the bond that the group shares.

“We go out and we play for each other, we love each other,” he said. “Honestly, six points that we gave up [against Georgia Tech] is six points too many.” 

The front seven has been one of the best in the country, recording 17 sacks through six games. The run defense has also been outstanding, allowing less than 100 yards rushing per game. Hayes gives credit to the depth of the defensive line, and to associate head coach and defensive line coach Mike Elston.

“We have a lot of guys who are really good players,” Hayes said. “The commitment in our D-line room, from the youngest guy to the oldest guy, the fifth-year captain to the true freshman, the commitment and buy-in, from the top down, led by Coach Elston to our youngest guy — we all care and we all love each other.”

Sophomore defensive end Isaiah Foskey has broken out this year, leading the team with 3.5 sacks. The interior of the line, led by Hayes’ fellow captain, fifth-year senior Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and senior defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has been instrumental in stopping the run, and senior nose tackle Kurt Hinish and junior defensive end Ovie Oghoufo have played big roles as well. When you factor in players like juniors Jayson and Justin Ademilola and sophomore Jacob Lacey, this is one of the deepest units in the country, and the Irish can constantly have fresh players on the field.

“When you bust your butt in practice, Coach Elston [is] going to give you opportunities to go out and play, because they’re earned opportunities,” Hayes said. “Coach Elston has done a great job with creating that type of dynamic within our D-line room because it keeps everybody hungry, and it gives everybody opportunities to go out and play… Everybody gets to go out and put out a performance for their brotherhood.” 

The brotherhood Hayes refers to is not just limited to the defensive line. It extends to the entire defense, and allows the defense to perform as one: “It’s all one unit, one organism working in tandem with one another to be the best version of itself,” he said.

Even with the defense already among the best in the country, Hayes has high expectations for the group.

“We want to be perfect, we want to be the best defense, we take it personally, we care about each other, we love each other,” he said. “When you have that love and care factor, man, [the] sky’s the limit for for any group, so we always say ‘for the brotherhood, FTB.’”

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