Jarrett Grace encountered a great deal of adversity in his Notre Dame career, but his determination, heart, and leadership will define his Irish legacy.
Considering the 2015-2016 college football season is in the past and he 2016 NFL Draft is basically here, 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.
Jarrett Grace, LB
Production at ND
Jarrett Grace began his Notre Dame career in 2011 as a 3-star inside linebacker prospect out of Cincinnati. He did not see the field his freshman season, preserving a year of eligibility that would come in handy later in his career.
During his sophomore campaign on the 2012 BCS National Championship runner-up team, Grace saw action in all 13 games but the vast majority of that came on special teams. He had 12 tackles on the year, with 10 of them coming on kickoffs (8, which led the team) and punts (2).
His junior year in 2013 was really when Grace stepped into a major role in the defense. He saw a good amount of action in the first six games of the season, starting games 4-6 as the Irish got into the meat of their schedule against Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Arizona State. During the Arizona State game (at the time of which, he was tied for the team lead in tackles with 40), Grace suffered a very serious broken leg. His season over, Grace’s stats reflected a strong first 6 games with 41 total tackles and one pass defended.
Senior year in 2014 was a year of rehab for the once-promising inside linebacker, as Grace was still on the mend from his 2013 injury. He sat out the entire season, working on getting his leg back into playing shape. By the time the team was preparing for the Music City Bowl, Grace was able to take part in practice, which was a strong and hopeful symbol for him after over a year of being out of the game.
Grace’s recovery garnered an invitation to return for a 5th year, and he came back to be a veteran leader and much-needed experienced inside linebacker depth. He played sparingly throughout the season, making bigger contributions in some games than others. He finished the year with 26 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and a QB hurry.
What His Departure Means
Jarrett Grace looked to be on his way to being a solid starting inside linebacker before his broken leg in 2013. Because of that, he didn’t see the field much for the remainder of his Irish career, and so his departure doesn’t necessarily rob the team of a great deal of on-field production.
However, Grace was by all accounts a fantastic personality in the locker room and on the sideline, displaying superb leadership, determination, and the ability to overcome adversity in working back to playing condition after his injury. He had all of the intangibles and appears to have been loved by his teammates (especially Joe Schmidt, for those of you who watched the Showtime series). So, with his graduate degree in hand and his health back to form, Jarrett Grace certainly will be taking a great deal of heart, a veteran presence, and experience that cannot be compensated for in more talented young linebacker prospects. His story has been one of inspiration and perseverance, and the program is certainly worse off for having lost him.
Who Will Step In?
Again, because Grace wasn’t a major on-field contributor his last few years, there is no real “stepping in” to fill his spot, except as a backup on the depth chart. So, I’m going to point out a few linebackers who we haven’t yet seen anything from or who ooze potential but have had limited opportunities to display it.
Rising junior Nyles Morgan has to be mentioned first, considering he is in line to probably start on the inside. Greer Martini (same class as Morgan) and rising sophomore Te’von Coney will both see a great deal of playing time (with one of them likely starting at the “Will” linebacker position) considering they played a decent amount in 2015. Sophomores-to-be Josh Barajas and Asmar Bilal are two more highly-rated kids who haven’t yet seen the field but who show serious potential (especially Bilal, who looks like a smaller, less-gifted Jaylon Smith out there in terms of speed, athleticism, intelligence, and dreadlocks).
All of these young linebackers will make the defense very interesting to watch next year, as unlike Grace, they don’t have the veteran experience or knowledge at the linebacker positions. We will see in due time whether or not their talent and view from the sidelines the past few years will yield successful results on the field in ’16.
Favorite Personal Memory from Player’s Career
I couldn’t find a YouTube video of Grace and Schmidt’s bromance as they emotionally reminisced in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, but I did find this interview on the “Swarbrick Show” where Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Joe Schmidt have a 12-minute conversation with Grace and the obvious friendship between the two 5th-year linebackers shines through in a very cheesy fashion. I just love seeing that two guys on the team who combined have been through almost everything someone could go through in a college football career can have this much love and admiration for each other. It’s pretty awesome.
So, in conclusion, I wish Jarrett Grace all the best in his post-ND life, and am positive he will be very successful considering his heart, tenacity, intelligence, and determination to overcome any and all obstacles he encounters. Thank you Jarrett, and God bless!