The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have lost star defensive end Aaron Lynch, a rising sophomore who had 5.5 sacks in 2011. He wants to head to a school closer to home in Florida, with the South Florida Bulls emerging as a potential candidate. The move heavily damages an Irish defense that was counting on its front seven to make up for secondary losses.
If not for the return of Manti Te'o, Notre Dame would return no players with four or more sacks last year. As it is, no returning defensive lineman amassed more than two. Lynch led all defensive linemen in tackles for loss (7) and ranked second at his position group in tackles (33).
All isn't lost, as the Irish do still have a talented pair of ends. Freshman bookend Stephon Tuitt becomes the biggest name on the line, while big Kapron Lewis-Moore is an experienced end who saw limited playing time last year, picking up 32 tackles before suffering an injury. He has 29 career starts to his credit already and figured to work into the starting rotation anyway. Chase Hounshell, Sheldon Day and Kona Schwenke are among the players likely to contend for backup time.
Notre Dame blog One Foot Down has been anticipating this for a while, despite hoping for the best.
In a pair of statements, coach Brian Kelly and Lynch each talked about the move:
"Aaron recently approached me about his desire to leave Notre Dame and return to Florida," Kelly said in a release. "I've always known and appreciated the affinity Aaron has for his home in Florida. However, the stark reality is you can't make it at Notre Dame if your head and heart are not here. I am proud of the effort Aaron made in the classroom and on the field at Notre Dame. I wish him all the best in the future."
"I want to thank Coach Kelly for giving me this great opportunity to attend Notre Dame and be part of the Fighting Irish football family. This was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make, but I want to go back home to Florida. I'm grateful to Coach Kelly for understanding and allowing me to return home."