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Notre Dame football announces fifth-year candidates

January 27, 2011|By ERIC HANSEN, Tribune Staff Writer
  • Harrison Smith returns an interception during the Sun Bowl on December 31st against Miami. (WSBT Photo)
Harrison Smith returns an interception during the Sun Bowl on December 31st against Miami. (WSBT Photo)

SOUTH BEND — Taking the fifth is never as easy as it sounds at Notre Dame.

The school announced Thursday afternoon that six senior football players have applied to become fifth-year seniors for the 2011 season, a process that won’t have a complete resolution until sometime in March or April.

The six who can — and likely will — come back to suit up for the Irish for another season are kicker David Ruffer, cornerback Gary Gray, safety Harrison Smith and offensive tackle Taylor Dever — all starters — along with backup tight end Mike Ragone and utility offensive lineman Andrew Nuss.

Smith, in fact, has already been named a captain for the 2011 season along with senior-to-be receiver Michael Floyd.

Beyond that, it’s all about semantics and math.

ND second-year coach Brian Kelly said last week that all 10 seniors with a fifth-year option applied to come back. Thus, not making the cut were kicker Brandon Walker, defensive end Emeka Nwankwo, linebacker Steve Paskorz and offensive tackle Matt Romine. Only Romine, of those four, saw significant playing time in 2010.

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Simple math prevents Kelly from nudging those four along in the fifth-year process with the others.

Well, maybe not simple.

The Irish have five recruits already enrolled in class and another 18 set to sign national letters-of-intent of Feb. 2. With the six announced fifth-year candidates, that puts ND one over the NCAA’s imposed scholarship limit of 85. The number includes center Dan Wenger, who may or may not be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA for which he has petitioned.

And there are still three recruits in play — two-way lineman Troy Niklas, running back Savon Huggins and long snapper Bryce Haynes — who could put ND four over if they all ended up matriculating to South Bend.

But Kelly has until the start of fall training camp to whittle the roster to 85, per NCAA rules. There are a number of ways to alleviate the overflow, but most likely transfers after spring semester would auto-correct the roster size. Wenger is expected to learn his fate sometime in February.

Spring practice kicks off in March 23, with the annual Blue-Gold Game set for April 16 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Staff writer Eric Hansen: ehansen@sbtinfo.com 574-235-6470
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