A pair of Notre Dame starters, offensive lineman Josh Lugg and safety Houston Griffith, announced they will use the extra year of eligibility afforded them by the NCAA during the coronavirus pandemic and return to play for the Irish in 2022.
The 6-foot-7, 305-pound Lugg was a fifth-year senior this season and has started 20 games over the last three years, including all 12 regular-season games in 2021 at right tackle. He missed the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State after tearing his meniscus during pre-bowl practices, leaving true freshman Blake Fisher to start in his place. The Irish are extremely high on Fisher, who was the Week 1 starter at left tackle before tearing his meniscus against Florida State and missing the rest of the regular season. It's likely Fisher and fellow 2021 true freshman Joe Alt, who started the second half of the season at left tackle and acquitted himself well, will be Notre Dame's starting tackles heading into 2022. That leaves Lugg to fill one of several positions: he could be the right guard, taking the place of the departed Cain Madden, who started all 13 games at the position in 2021; he could return to the "Swiss-army knife" role he played in 2019 and 2020, acting as a sixth offensive lineman and filling wherever and whenever necessary; or he could take the right tackle spot again if Alt or Fisher underperforms. Having Lugg back for a sixth season, when he is likely to be a captain, is a coup for the Irish offense.
Griffith, meanwhile, is a former top 100 recruit, the highest-ranked player the Irish signed in the 2018 class. He has contributed all four seasons he has been on campus, but he did not start on an every-week basis until 2021, when he played strong safety opposite All-American Kyle Hamilton and later, after Hamilton got injured mid-season, Ramon Henderson. From that position, where he started all 13 games this season, Griffith made 38 tackles. He should start again in 2022 and his return brings some depth to an Irish defensive backfield that needs it.
Griffith entered the transfer portal in January 2021 after playing nickel and cornerback, not his natural positions, much of his first three seasons in South Bend. The Irish re-recruited him after then-defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman arrived on campus in mid-January.
"(Freeman played) a very critical role," Griffith told Irish Breakdown of his decision to pull his name out of the portal. "I got to know him, I feel like he’s going to put a lot of guys in position to play fast. I feel like as a safety we’re going to be really excited for what Coach Freeman is going to bring to the table. We would talk about the positions that he could see me playing and everything he was saying he could see on tape."
Griffith obviously felt Freeman lived up to his expectations this season, deciding to return after the former DC was elevated to head coach.
Notre Dame is still waiting on stay-or-go decisions from several key player: center Jarrett Patterson, wide receivers Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, defensive end Isaiah Foskey – who will announce his decision Saturday – and defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola.