SOUTH BEND — The decisions to go to the NFL have been fast and furious for Notre Dame football players since their 30-3 loss in the College Football Playoff Semifinal game to Clemson. A total of five players have made decisions that will affect the Irish’s 2019 roster.
Khalid Kareem, defensive end — The first Irish player to announce he was coming back, Kareem tweeted a picture with the caption “Can’t Leave On That Note.” Having Kareem come back for his senior season is a huge boost to the Notre Dame defensive line, as they’re already losing Jerry Tillery to graduation.
Kareem had a prolific 2018 season, totaling 43 tackles, including 11.5 for loss. He also had 5.5 sacks, good for third on the team. He is expected to be a full-time starter and a huge contributor for the Irish in 2019 season.
Julian Okwara, defensive end — Another huge return for the Notre Dame front-four, Okwara will be coming back for his senior season. The junior tweeted out a full statement on his return, saying, in part, “I’ve simply got too much work to do. I can’t wait to get back with my brothers and continue the work we started this season.”
Okwara was second on the team in sacks with 6.5. He also had 37 tackles and 11 for loss. Like Kareem, he is expected to be one of the leaders up-front for the Irish defense. Notre Dame will have Kareem, Okwara and Daelin Hayes all returning for the 2019 season, giving them a talent front-four.
Julian Love, cornerback — The player with the highest NFL upside, Love announced he will forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
“While I’m confident that this is the best choice for my future, the decision to leave Notre Dame was not an easy one,” Love said in his statement. “It was a childhood dream of mine to put on the gold helmet and play football for the Fighting Irish.”
Love was arguably the Irish’s top defensive player in 2018, recording 16 pass breakups and an interception. He became the program’s all-time leader in pass breakups in the week five victory over Stanford. He finishes his career with 39 PBU’s, five interceptions and 176 tackles.
His impact was most noticeable in the CFP semifinal against Clemson. Love missed the entire second quarter with a head injury, and the Tigers capitalized on his absence with three second-quarter touchdown passes. Replacing Love will be one of Notre Dame’s toughest challenges in 2019.
Miles Boykin, wide receiver — Boykin still had one year left of eligibility after redshirting his freshman year. But the 6-4 receiver decided it was time to head to the pros and declare for the NFL Draft.
“To my teammates and coaches, I’d never be in this position without the continuous support you’ve shown me over my career,” Boykin said in his announcement. “I’ll truly miss all of you, and I want to thank you all for believing in me.”
It was a great 2018 for Boykin, starting with the conclusion of the 2017 season in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018, against LSU. He had 102 yards receiving and the game-winning, one-handed 55-yard touchdown catch with 1:28 to go in the game. The catch won him game MVP honors.
Boykin parlayed the huge game into a successful 2018 season, where he had 59 receptions for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. He was Notre Dame’s leading receiver in the Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson, hauling in five passes for 69 yards.
Alize Mack, tight end — Much like Boykin, Mack decided to skip his last year of eligibility and announce his intentions to enter the NFL Draft.
“As I begin preparing for this next phase in my football journey, I am so grateful to be a part of the Notre Dame family and tradition,” Mack said. “I will carry the many lessons I have learned in South Bend with me forever.”
Mack was the top tight end for Notre Dame in 2018, tallying 360 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He’s a big target at 6-5, 247 pounds and has gotten steadily better in his three years of playing for the Irish.
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN