The Journal Gazette
Monday, August 05, 2019 1:00 am

Freshman impresses teammates

Safety picks off 3 passes on 1st day of Irish's fall camp

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

CULVER – Kyle Hamilton's interceptions piled up so quickly that fellow safety Jalen Elliott had trouble keeping track of them.

After the third pick Hamilton pulled down, Elliott bounded over to the sideline, pumping his fist.

“You see that?” Elliott said, loud enough for fans 40 yards away to hear. “That's two. And he's a freshman.”

Hamilton is indeed a freshman, the highest-ranked signee in Notre Dame's freshman class. The opening practice of fall camp at Culver Academies on Sunday was Hamilton's first time on the field in a Notre Dame uniform.

Hamilton, a five-star recruit, No. 60 overall in the 2019 class, wasted no time in proving the hype surrounding him is real. Early in 7-on-7 drills, he read an out route perfectly off the hand of backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec and stepped in front for an interception, the first takeaway of the day.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound safety later added two more interceptions of Jurkovec on passes over the middle that were tipped in the air, leading to the raucous celebration from Elliott and other defensive backs.

“(I'm) just making sure Kyle's by me and we're going through plays and we're doing everything together,” said Elliott, who lost most of his voice from shouting during practice. “That's something big for me so that he can progress and hopefully be better than me one day.”

The interception bug bit starting quarterback Ian Book, as well, when he tried to throw a back-shoulder pass down the sideline, and another safety, Alohi Gilman, made a terrific grab and got his foot down.

On the majority of teams, Hamilton would be battling for a starting spot in camp. With the Irish, however, he'll have to wait his turn. Elliott, a senior, and Gilman, a junior, combined for six interceptions and 12 pass-breakups last season and are entrenched in the lineup. They have their sights set on elite status.

“I feel like me and Jalen is probably one of the best (safety) tandems in the country, I'm going to say it right now,” Gilman said. “That's my brother, we work hard together, he pushes me every day, working to be the best, so I'm excited for this season.”

Elliott was quick to back up his defensive backfield partner's assessment. He also believes the pair can be one of the best in the nation and he sees competition between them as one of the keys to that success.

“We come out and show that we're the best,” said Elliott, who had 67 tackles last season. “It's not just talk, it's something that we come out and do. We push each other every day. ... We just feed off each other's energy and I think that circulates in the (safeties) room.”

Elliott didn't get an interception of his own on the first day of camp, but there will be plenty of time for that before the season starts. Sunday was the first of 18 practices the Irish will have at camp, the first five of which will be at Culver. 

It was a good day from the eyes of coach Brian Kelly, who is entering his 10th season with the Irish.

He called his team “purposeful,” but he reacted as though he hadn't noticed Hamilton's big day, professing to have focused on the position battle at linebacker.

“Did he take any reps?” Kelly asked of Hamilton. “Did he have three picks? Well that's a good first day for him.”

Kelly admitted he still gets goosebumps on the first day of camp, despite being at Notre Dame for almost a decade.

“Football is what gets me excited,” the coach said. “Being around the guys more than anything else because there's a long period of time when you're not around them.

“Getting a chance to spend time with them and talk about the little things that they can do.

“They're a committed group and they've sacrificed a lot to put themselves in position and now we've got some work to do.”

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