Notre Dame Football: Can Kevin Austin be as good as Chase Claypool?

Kevin Austin (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Kevin Austin (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

Chase Claypool left Notre Dame as one of the best wide receivers at ND in recent memory. Can young Kevin Austin fill those shoes?

150 receptions, 2159 yards, 19 touchdowns.

Those are Chase Claypool’s final collegiate stats from his time at Notre Dame. Needless to say, those are big shoes to fill for redshirt junior Kevin Austin, who has yet to make much of an impact in his Notre Dame career.

In Austin’s freshman season (2018), he totaled four games played and had five catches for 90 yards. Austin did not touch the field in 2019, as he was suspended from the team for undisclosed reasons. One would have to believe he would have had a decent impact, or even a potential breakout season last year if he were able to play.

Given that he redshirted in 2018 and did not play in 2019 if Austin were to appeal to the NCAA for another year of eligibility, there is a possibility he could have three years of playing time in South Bend heading into the fall.

Now, with Chase Claypool and Chris Finke heading to the NFL, Austin is left to lead the wide receiver core and fill in Claypool’s outside receiver role.

Notre Dame does return key contributors Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III, and tight end Tommy Tremble, but Austin is expected to be the clear No.1 option in the Tommy Rees’ offense.

While Kevin Austin was not able to play for Notre Dame last season, there were many practice reports that leaked saying that Austin was the best player on the field many times and the most difficult to cover for Notre Dame corners.

After the Boston College game in 2019, Kelly gave a raving review of Austin, going as far as to say he had been “outstanding” in practice. Defensive coaches told Kelly that Kevin Austin is “the best player over there,” when the scout team is working against the 1st team defense in practice.

Austin is expected to take up the outside receiver role that is now vacant with Claypool heading to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has similar traits to former dominant Notre Dame outside receivers, Michael Floyd, Miles Boykin, and Chase Claypool. He has the hands of Floyd, the contested catching ability of Boykin, and the ability to make plays after the catch, like Notre Dame fans saw Claypool do so many times over the past four years.

Can Kevin Austin be as good as Chase Claypool?

It’s safe to say, this kid could be special.

There will be a learning curve for Austin as he adjusts to playing top-notch college football talent week-in and week-out, but given the proper time to adjust, there is plenty of reason to expect Austin to breakout and have a season similar to Chase Claypool’s 2019.

Potentially even more important for Austin will be his adjustments off the field. As mentioned before, the young receiver was suspended for the entirety of the 2019 season for undisclosed reasons. Brian Kelly knows better than anyone the talent that Austin possesses, and it is fair to say he must have done something significant in order to be on the sidelines for an entire season.

Whatever Austin did, it seems he has worked past it and continued to apply himself in the classroom and on the football field at Notre Dame.

In light of the Austin situation from 2019, it seems some people forget being a football player at school like Notre Dame is not for everyone. The academic standards, religious overtones, cold weather, and distance from home in the case of Austin can make it difficult for a kid that is just 19 or 20 years old. That is quite a bit of adjusting to do, considering Austin comes from the heart of Florida.

However, while in Kelly’s ‘doghouse’ all season long, Kelly himself and others within the Notre Dame staff only had positive things to say about how Austin carried himself in practice and in the classroom.

It speaks very highly of Austin’s character and perseverance, considering how easy it would be for Austin to enter the transfer portal where he would be a hot commodity for dozens of schools. He could have easily transferred away from Notre Dame to a school where he could still play high-level football, and not have to work nearly as hard academically.

But, he chose to stay and prove himself at Notre Dame.

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If and when there is a college football season this fall, keep your eyes out for #4.