With star defensive lineman Sheldon Day’s departure, Notre Dame will need various talented defensive linemen to step up in terms of production and leadership.
Considering the 2015-2016 college football season has finally come to a close and underclassmen have officially declared for the 2016 NFL Draft, Slap the Sign presents its “Exit Interviews,” where we review the players leaving the program, what they’re leaving behind and taking with them, and how Notre Dame plans on replacing their production and experience.
Sheldon Day, DT
Production at ND
Sheldon Day came to Notre Dame as a much-heralded defensive line recruit from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, and was one of the most coveted players on the coaches’ board, considering they actually shut down d-line recruiting once they wrapped up his commitment and felt their defensive class was complete up front.
The coaches were proven correct in their assessment of Day almost immediately, as he was able to make an impact as a true freshman in the team’s 2012 undefeated regular season run to the BCS National Championship. Day finished that rookie season with 23 tackles, including 2 sacks, one each in big wins at Michigan State and at home against Michigan. He followed that up with a strong 2013 season, starting 8 of the 11 games that he played in and notching 33 tackles, 5.5 of them for loss.
Sheldon’s junior season is when he really began to show how powerful he could be, as he started 11 games before suffering an injury that took him out for the season and exposed a lack of depth up the middle of the defense without him. He served as a captain during that season, making 40 tackles (7.5 for loss), 1 sack, and 9 QB hurries.
As a senior, Day was again named a captain, and finally enjoyed a season unmarred by major injury (he suffered injuries in 2013 and 2014 that took him out of multiple games). A full season of good health enabled Sheldon to really put his speed, strength, and maniacal-bulldog nature to perfect use, as he proved to be nearly unblockable all season. Day wrought havoc in opposing backfields when almost no one else on a disappointing Irish defense was able to, accumulating 45 tackles (15.5 for loss), 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 13 QB hurries. Furthermore, Day’s stoutness in the middle of the defense helped stuff many a running back and disrupt offenses enough to allow teammates to make plays (however infrequent those plays actually happened).
What His Departure Means
Like many of the losses after this past season, this one hurts, and it hurts a lot. Sheldon Day was an absolute force up front, and along with Jaylon Smith, was the sole reason the Irish defense wasn’t completely steamrolled by every opponent with any semblance of an offense (especially with DT Jarron Jones missing the entire season due to injury).
Losing Day is not only a production and talent loss, though. A two-time captain and locker room personality who was second-to-none, Sheldon Day’s departure leaves a huge, veteran, nearly 300-pound void in terms of leadership and guidance for a lot of young, raw, and inexperienced defensive players. Furthermore, his graduation and subsequent drafting into the NFL leaves Terry Jillery without his mentor and confidant and yoga partner, and robs ND fans of being able to see Sheldon’s mom’s antics in the stands or in any future Showtime series about the team.
Who Will Step In?
If you watched the Showtime series, you’d know that Sheldon Day showed immense wisdom and foresight in helping to train his potential replacement. His protege, Jerry “Terry Jillery” Tillery, learned a ton from Day throughout his freshman season (although apparently not enough to remain eligible in Coach Kelly’s eyes for the Fiesta Bowl), and showed flashes of fantastic strength and athleticism up the middle.
Joining Jillery will certainly be rising junior Daniel Cage, who has already seen some extensive time starting in place of Jones and filling in where needed up front. He has continued to progress and will be a key player up the middle alongside Jillery and Jones.
Another player to keep an eye on is Jay Hayes, a rising junior who saw his redshirt burned late in his freshman season due to a lack of depth of front, and then did not see the field last season. Very talented and also a bit of a character (in both good and bad ways), Hayes could see some time as well.
Obviously, rising senior Isaac Rochell will be a key starter on the defensive line as well, but he will likely play more as a defensive end this season with Jones, Jillery, Cage, and Hayes all contributing more naturally in the middle.
No matter who ultimately takes the majority of Day’s huge chunk of playing time, no single person will likely be able to match his production. He was one of the best defensive linemen in college football and offensive lines had to perpetually scheme around his presence. Instead, a defensive tackle committee will need to work together to cause similar havoc and force QBs and RBs into committing turnovers.
More from Slap the Sign
- PointsBet Promo: Bet $50, Win an Official Jersey at Fanatics!
- Notre Dame vs NC State: How to watch, odds, injuries, series history and more
- Caesars Indiana Sign-Up Promo: Win $250 GUARANTEED Bonus Betting on Notre Dame This Week!
- FanDuel + DraftKings Indiana Promos: Bet $10 on Notre Dame, Win $400 Bonus GUARANTEED!
- New Caesars + DraftKings Indiana Promos: $450 GUARANTEED Bonus Backing Notre Dame vs. Navy!
Favorite Personal Memory from Sheldon’s Career
This is a no-brainer. Sheldon had various amazing plays throughout his career on the field, but none of them tops what he was able to give fans off the field.
I, of course, am speaking about his antics in the Showtime documentary, including his mentor-mentee relationship with Terry Jillery, as well as his hilarious and adorable interactions with his mother.
‘Funny,’ ‘genuine,’ ‘passionate,’ ‘insightful,’ and ‘dreadlocks’ are all words that could be used to describe what we saw from Sheldon Day both inside and outside of football. He’s one of my favorite personalities to ever play for ND, and whatever team that drafts him will be getting a talented, hardworking leader who will certainly help them win football games.
Sheldon, it’s been a pleasure watching you terrorize quarterbacks for four years, and I speak for all Notre Dame fans when I say that we wish you all the best as you head to the NFL. I cannot wait to see what you will accomplish next, because it clearly will be something very special.
Good luck Sheldon!