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The Journal Gazette

Friday, January 04, 2019 8:30 pm

Love, Mack declare for NFL Draft

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame All-Americans Julian Love and Alize Mack announced Friday they would forego their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.

Love, a two-time All-American, holds the single-season and career records for pass breakups at Notre Dame and registered 63 tackles in 2018, including three for loss. He is projected to be drafted within the first three rounds.

"I just want to say this season was such a fun ride," Love wrote on Twitter. "The relationships gained have made me so happy and grateful to have been a part of it all. ... While I'm confident this is the best choice for my future, the decision to leave Notre Dame was not an easy one.

"It was a childhood dream of mine to put on the gold helmet and play football for the Fighting Irish and my experience at this university has been just that – a dream."

Losing Love is a big blow for the 2019 Notre Dame defense. The 5-foot-11, 193-pound junior was the prototypical shutdown corner, capable of running with the fastest wide receivers, but also physical enough to battle with players much taller than he is. Losing him in the second quarter of the Cotton Bowl was one of the turning points in the game. 

Without Love, players such as Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn and young guys such as TaRiq Bracy will have to step up next season. We'll get the first glimpse of what a post-Love secondary will look like in spring ball. 

Beyond even the scheme-related issues, however, Love is a big loss for the locker room. He was the heir apparent to Drue Tranquill as the emotional leader of the defense, one of the smartest and most thoughtful players on the team. With Love, Tranquill, Te'von Coney and Jerry Tillery all gone, new leaders will have to emerge quickly.

On the other side of the line scrimmage, Mack caught 36 passes for 360 yards as Notre Dame's primary tight end in 2018, hauling in three touchdowns. All three figures represented career-highs and he is projected as a mid-round draft pick.

Mack was a senior, though he missed the entire 2016 due to academics and had another season of eligibility.

"Representing Notre Dame on the field and in the community has been one of the greatest privileges of my life," the tight end wrote on Twitter. "These last four years have challenged me athletically, scholastically, and personally every single day and I'm a better person for it."

Mack is a talented player and could well be a productive tight end in the NFL, following in the footsteps of Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert. On the other hand, he's much more replaceable than Love, simply because the Irish were deep at the position this season. Cole Kmet is 6-foot-6 and a more than capable pass-catcher. He hauled in 14 passes for 151 yards this season despite missing two games and playing behind Mack. Freshman George Takacs is also expected to be an important target going forward.

dsinn@jg.net