- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Talk about a bad start to Friday the 13th.
Aaron Lynch is gone from the Notre Dame football program, the Irish's best pass-rusher electing to take his talents back home to Florida upon semester's end. (Speculation is that South Florida could be the beneficiary. Coach Brian Kelly said he won't hold Lynch back, though he didn't say if Lynch would have an unconditional release.)
What started with an excusal from practice last Wednesday and Kelly denying that Lynch quit the team ended nine days later with the head coach beginning a last-minute press conference moments after Lynch's release by saying: "As you know, Aaron Lynch has quit the football team."
"I think whether I was at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati -- the dynamics are the same as it relates to your team and making sure that there's a standard across the board," Kelly said. "And I think there is a point where, listen, 'You're either in or not.' Like in recruiting, we're laying our cards on the table: Here's who we are, you know what I mean? This is what you're going to get when you come.
"We're not going to come in and say, 'You don't have to live in the dorms.' No, you've got to live in the dorms. We don't say, 'It's easy in the classroom, don't worry about it.' We don't say, 'Hey, don't worry about it, it never snows here' ... though it doesn't seem like it snows here much anymore. But the fact of the matter is when you're opened up like that, then you have to be that same way within the program, and we wish him the best."
The loss for the Irish defense is immeasurable. Seven tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries show the mark of a great defensive end. Throw in that Lynch did all this as a true freshman despite admittedly being far from the most coachable player upon arrival, and it's easy to see why Irish fans were excited about the defensive line for the next two years with Lynch as the anchor. (Yes, he is talented enough to go pro after three years.)
More troubling, however, is the lack of momentum that this team has been unable to sustain for nearly two years now.
Close out 2010 with four convincing wins ... give the ball away 10 times in two losses to open 2011.
Stock up on blue-chip prospects for the 2011 recruiting class ... and lose Deontay Greenberry, one of the team's biggest recruits, to Houston on national signing day.
Regain some punch with the late commitment of Davonte Neal ... and lose Tee Shepard, Greenberry's cousin, after he enrolled early.
Gain six commitments in a four-day span following Junior Day ... and watch one of the most talented defensive players in years leave the program a week before the spring game.
The Lynch-is-unhappy saga picked up plenty of steam this spring, some of it probably unwarranted early (he's not the first to dislike South Bend weather) before his early Easter break-departure for home caused a minor panic among the Irish's fanbase.
A return to school this week momentarily calmed everyone's nerves, but in the end, as Lynch had not been afraid to say publicly, the Florida native's marriage with Notre Dame was far from compatible.
"It was his third semester as a mid-year guy," Kelly said. "I think more of it was during this stretch of January, February, March. And again, some of it is, you've got a guy that is young, and you want to see him mature and then you know where you hit a point where it's not about growing up, it's about where your heart is, so that's where we got to this point in the decision.
"But during the season's easy, as you know: you play games, you know what I mean? So that keeps you fired up, and when he got in here as an early enrollee, it's the anticipation of playing and then the unknown when you go to Notre Dame, so I think it was after he got through the season. Then, where's your head at? And that's how we got to a decision."