Late Bloomer

A confluence of events in late-September 2011 cost Kona Schwenke a season of eligibility. Thanks to the senior's improved play of late, his football future could be relatively unaffected. The outcome of Notre Dame's final two games, however, might rest on his return from injury and into the defensive line rotation.

As a true freshman in 2010, his head coach's first season in South Bend, undersized edge rusher Kona Schwenke was pressed into action due to injuries along the Irish defensive front.

It was Game Nine of 12, a 28-27 loss to Tulsa, and Schwenke made his presence felt from the outset, pressuring Golden Hurricanes quarterback G.J. Kinne early, and later recovering a fumble.

Three calendar years later, Schwenke might again be pressed into action, injury be damned.

"We put him in a cast, he's in a cast for 10 days," said head coach Brian Kelly last week. "I don't know if it is aggressive or conservative, I don't know what the medical terminology would be. Instead of putting him in a boot, we wanted to go 10 days to really shut that down. We'll know when we take that cast off, where we are with him. If we've gotten the pain and inflammation out of there, we could be looking at something in the line of getting him back for BYU."

It seems unlikely Schwenke would return for the contest vs. the Cougars, though Senior Day and the likelihood of a poor defensive showing in his absence could spur an extra shot (no pun intended) of adrenaline for the versatile defensive lineman.

Considering the lack of depth up front, and the health status of starters Louis Nix and Sheldon Day, Notre Dame probably can't win without him.

"We're getting a lot of favorable reports on him being able to play next year as well, at the next level," said Kelly. "He's a kid who is lean at 305 pounds right now. They're hard to find at 6'4".  And he's played well for us.

"Here's a young man that didn't play a lot of football. He was in my office early in the year (and asked) 'Hey, where do I stand? Am I going to get an opportunity this year?'

"And we felt like he would. He had a great preseason camp, and he's been really important to us this year. His play has been for us the best it's been since he's been here."

Opportunities Lost and Found

Schwenke was the first nose guard but third defensive linemen off the bench for the standout Irish defense of 2012. He, Day, and Tony Springmann (out for 2013 with a torn ACL) gave the program its best backup group since, not coincidentally, the 1992 and 1993 seasons when Lou Holtz's Irish finished a combined 21-1-2.

Last season showed Schwenke could compete, that after a 2011 season spent adjusting to his new frame…while wasting a year of collegiate eligibility on an ill-advised substitution in West Lafayette.

"Of course it saddens me that this is my last year here," said Schwenke. "I want to be with my brothers. It's sad but also time for me to grow as a person."

It's time because then-freshman Stephon Tuitt skipped a class and was thus left off the travel roster by Kelly. One defensive lineman down, senior Ethan Johnson subsequently was lost for the contest (and later an extended period) with a severe ankle injury.

Neither Tyler Stockton nor Brandon Newman, both juniors at the time, were brought on the trip and Schwenke, he of the recently gained 70 pounds and set for a sophomore season redshirt, was put in for a handful of plays in a game the Irish prevailed 38-10.

A season of eligibility lost, little gained.

Notre Dame's 2014 football team will feel that sting far more than the surging Schwenke.

"When he gained that weight he still kept a lot of his quickness," said Irish left tackle Zack Martin. "That's one of the really big things. He put that weight on to be able to anchor at the nose. He's getting a lot of double teams. It's important to have that weight to be able to anchor in the 3-4 defense. But if they put him at 4-technique (DE) or maybe 5-technique (4-3 DE), he still has some quick moves. You have to be on your game (as an offensive lineman) for a quick move. He's grown a ton since he's been here."

Schwenke's time as an edge rusher turned nose guard turned quality defensive line starter affords him a chance to continue his playing days at the next level.

"Playing football for a long time, it's always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL," Schwenke admitted. "But I've just been moved around and tried to help my team. When I heard about it (NFL interest), as a player you get kind of excited. But for now, I'm just going to the flow.

"I haven't talked to coach about anything past Notre Dame."

Notre Dame concludes the season with matchups against the nation's No. 13 rushing attack in BYU and perhaps the most punishing ground game at the college level west of Tuscaloosa, the Stanford Cardinal (technically No. 28 thought that doesn't include an inherent brutality factor).

Schwenke's 304-pound frame and his ability to fill in at every line position appears a necessity if the Irish are to avoid the lowest quality bowl bid available post-Christmas.

"I came in at 225 pounds, I'm at about 300 right now," he said. "It's been a hard transition since freshman year, getting used to my weight. I feel now that I'm finally used to my weight and can move around how I want to. I feel like my freshman year was kind of a fast transition to being a heavier player. I've worked on it, I've gotten used to it, and now it's a strength.

One in short supply as a ravaged defense (17 different starters this season) hits the home stretch. Top Stories