NOTRE DAME — Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt might be garnering attention from preseason watch lists and NFL Draft projection boards, but a third defensive lineman has caught the head coach’s eye.
Sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day has turned some heads during preseason camp, none more so than head coach Brian Kelly.
“Sheldon Day is...Just watch the film,” Kelly said during a media session on Monday, Aug. 12. “His first-step quickness. He’s an impressive football player. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody on the football team right now. He’s as impressive of a football player that we have on our defense.”
That’s high praise for a player who primarily served as a complement to starter Kapron Lewis-Moore last year and will line up next to two future first-round draft picks this year.
Day saw the field in all 13 games last year and finished with 23 tackles and two sacks as Lewis-Moore’s backup. Now he’s figured to be a starter on one of the top defensive lines in college football.
At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, he is the second shortest defensive lineman on the team (Tyler Stockton measures in at 5-11). From a sheer eye test standpoint, Day isn’t the prototypical end Kelly seeks for his defense. By comparison, Tuitt is 6-6.5, 322 pounds and Nix is 6-2.5, 357 pounds.
But Day compensates for his size with his speed and his stamina. He’s already transformed into an every-down player.
“Right now if there’s an eight-play drive, he does not come out of the game,” Kelly said. “He’s the one that does not come out of the game. His work volume, his ability to go. His pass-rush ability. He’s an outstanding football player.”
Kelly isn’t the only Notre Dame coach high on Day. In the spring, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco raved about Day’s likability and popularity on the team.
“He’s one of the favorites on the team,” Diaco said in April. “The guys all love him. He’s involved in different activities outside of this building. He’s like mayor of the town. He’s got energy every day. He’s smiling. He’s happy. He’s like the Energizer bunny.”
For as much praise as coaches have heaped on the Warren Central graduate, Day doesn’t have much to say about himself.
His answers are short, his self-analysis even shorter.
What has he done to become so good at getting off blocks? “Work on my lockout and ‘violent hands,’ pretty much,” he said.
What’s the key to being able to play anywhere on the line? “Just focusing on my fundamentals,” he said.
What can you he learn from Nix and Tuitt? “They’re great leaders,” he said. “They’re helping me move my game forward.”
What’s he looking forward to most about the season beginning? “Just the ability to hit someone other than my team,” he laughed.
Day comes off as a foil of Nix, at least in his interactions with the media. But like Nix, Day hopes to take on a leadership role this year, even though he’s younger than anyone else on the line who will likely be in the regular rotation.
He learned a lot of that leadership from Lewis-Moore, who was one of the team’s four captains last season. Day was an early enrollee last winter and was able to spend an entire year under the tutelage of the then-senior.
“The ability to be a vocal leader,” Day said of what Lewis-Moore taught him. “The ins and outs of it. When to be quiet, when to talk. Hopefully I can become (a leader).”