SOUTH BEND — Saturday was a day for some of the new stars of Notre Dame football to take center stage, and they did just that. Avery Davis, Javon McKinley, C’Bo Flemister, Braden Lenzy and Kyle Hamilton all recorded their first career touchdowns in a 66-14 thumping of New Mexico at Notre Dame Stadium.
Davis has had a whirlwind career at Notre Dame, moving from quarterback, to running back, to defensive back, and now back to running back after an injury to Jafar Armstrong. The redshirt sophomore took a jet sweep pass from quarterback Ian Book 59 yards to the end zone, dashing past any would-be New Mexico tacklers.
Book said Davis not missing a beat when moving back to offense is an indication of Davis’ talent.
“Shows the type of player he is and where he’s at, mentally,” Book said. “Nothing better than to see him get that run (Saturday). I’m excited for him and I know he was, too. I like to say he belongs on offense. That’s what we like and we’ll keep him there.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Davis didn’t have any problems with the playbook in practice and they hope to use more of him as the season goes on.
“We wanted to get him involved a little bit (Saturday) and we didn’t want to show a whole lot,” Kelly said. “So, he’s a smart kid, played high school football at a very good program. Knows the game well and was able to retain most of our offense.”
McKinley, a 6-2 senior wide receiver, had the highlight of the day with his 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown, which made it a 21-0 game at the time. The Corona, Calif. native didn’t have a reception, let alone a touchdown, in his first three years with the Irish. He recorded his first catch against Louisville in week one, and followed it up with a two-touchdown performance against the Lobos. He hauled in another touchdown pass in the third quarter.
“He was my roommate freshman (year) summer, so as soon as we got here, he was my roommate,” senior wide receiver Chase Claypool said. “So, to see that growth and him staying true to everything we’ve talked about, I’m so excited for him. I hope he enjoys every minute of it.”
There was doubt McKinley would still be with the program back in February when he was suspended from team activities after being arrested and charged with three misdemeanors for allegedly punching two campus officers. McKinley was reinstated during spring practice, though, and is now making an impact for the No. 7 Fighting Irish.
“He had, really, a clean record with us,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “This was — I don’t want to say an aberration, but it was something that had never happened before, which earned him the opportunity to get a second chance.”
McKinley has been huge for the Irish after wide receiver Michael Young broke his collarbone in fall camp. McKinley’s versatility has helped him become a top option at wide receiver for Notre Dame.
“He’s earned his opportunity to get significant playing time,” Kelly said. “He helps in the running game, he helps in, obviously, the 1-on-1 matchups. And he’ll be a significant part of what we do moving forward.”
Hamilton got the scoring started for Notre Dame Saturday with a 34-yard pick six. A true freshman from Atlanta, Hamilton was a standout performer during fall camp, making interceptions in almost every 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drill. Now, he’s showing off his skills on game days.
“He recognizes things really well. Route recognition is outstanding,” Kelly said. “He just has a natural sense and feel for route recognition. Some guys have it, some guys struggle with it. He’s got that in natural ability and then length, obviously helps quite a bit.”
Flemister, a redshirt freshman, had a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He and true freshman running back Kyren Williams combined for 24 rushing yards on 11 carries and the touchdown. While the production wasn’t high, Kelly thought his young running backs played their roles well.
“When we call your number today, you need to make a play, and they did,” Kelly said.
Lenzy, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, caught the final touchdown of the day for Notre Dame, a 22-yard strike from freshman quarterback Brendon Clark.
“We were pleased with Braden,” Kelly said. “I think the things we were pleased with him the most were the scripted plays … he graded out very well. He’s going to be a guy who we can now really get involved with our offense. He’s got great confidence in his ability to do that.”
Having multiple playmakers will be key for Notre Dame as they travel to No. 3 Georgia on Saturday.
“There’s a lot of young players that are wanting their opportunity, and we’ve told them they’re going to get their chance here,” Kelly said. “When we call your number, you have to step up and make a play, and we saw a lot of young guys doing that.
“We know we’ve got some guys that can make plays, and after this game, it allows us now to kind of put the pieces together as to how we want this offense to continue to move forward.”