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Freshmen making impact through 6 games

10/10/2011

Nobody confuses Notre Dame fans wearing No. 5 jerseys for representing Everett Golson. And that likely won't change for the rest of the season, either.

Whether or not Manti Te'o elects to return for his senior season will be determined once his junior year is complete. Until then, he will probably be the only No. 5 on the field for the Fighting Irish.

"I think you guys can figure out what the rotation is going to be at this point," Brian Kelly said on his conference call Sunday when asked about the freshman quarterback Golson, who has not played through six games.

Told he was giving reporters too much credit, Kelly almost went there: "You know what I would like to say, but I'm not going to say it."

For those late to the party, the term is "redshirt," an eight-letter no-no in South Bend, regardless of the few fifth-year players who trot out to the field every Saturday.

It's a fate that Golson is all but assured of after sophomore -- or is redshirt freshman? -- Andrew Hendrix saw his first career action Saturday, completing all four of his passes for 33 yards and rushing it six times for 111 yards.

Kelly has played 10 freshmen through six games, one more than he did throughout last season. DaVaris Daniels would seemingly be the next freshman in line to join the list, but Kelly said Wednesday that although he wanted to get Daniels in, it was "getting close to that time," another way of saying a redshirt decision could be on the way.

With freshmen Chase Hounshell and Josh Atkinson debuting Saturday while Daniels did not, the receiver's chances of seeing the field this season went from slim to virtually none.

Kelly had plenty to say when asked about the freshmen who have seen the field so far:

"Wow, where do I start? Let's start defensively. Obviously [Stephon] Tuitt and [Aaron] Lynch are great freshmen. I wouldn't put that tag on them as seniors, but as true freshmen, they played great. They made mistakes, but you can see that they are going to be a great building block for us.

"George Atkinson on offense has provided a great spark for us on the kickoff return team. I think if you continue to look at freshmen in terms of their impact, along the line, Ben Koyack has done a very nice job in our tight end set coming in and providing us really some solid play when we lost Mike Ragone, who is an outstanding blocker. Chase Hounshell played very, very well for us at 39 snaps; that's a lot of work when you talk about week six, and his physical conditioning was outstanding. Kyle Brindza has been pretty good and kicking the football, the number of touchbacks, that's really impacted what we've done.

"You know, Troy Niklas, he comes in and has to start against a pretty good team against [Michigan State] and came in and has done a great job for us.

"So a lot of freshmen, a lot of guys that are getting in there and helping us. Cam McDaniel on special teams has been outstanding for us. Again that's a lot of true freshmen. Ishaq Williams, you look at what Ishaq has done, he has not gotten as many snaps as Lynch, but you can see him coming each and every week. How's that so far?"

The early returns are successful, particularly Tuitt and Lynch, who have combined for 21 tackles. Lynch has 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, eight quarterback hurries and a forced fumble, as well.

And as the season progresses and mid-terms and homesickness begin to mount, Kelly is thankful his first-year players have a chance to take a frenetic game week out of the equation.

"You have to understand, Aaron Lynch, those kids have been up here on campus since June 16," Kelly said after Saturday's win. "They have not been home since June 16, and that's hard for an 18-year-old kid. So this break comes at a good time for our guys to get home and see their families a little bit. So any momentum that is lost in that is gained by our guys getting a chance to get home."