Jarrett Grace’s presence between the lines during spring illustrated the athlete’s competitive drive and dedication to the Irish program. This fall, his goal is a return to normalcy -- playing the role of run-stuffing linebacker that previously earned him a trio of starts for Brian Kelly’s Irish.
Thirteen months ago, Grace couldn’t walk without the aid of a crutch or cane. Eight months ago, Grace could barely run, much less consider competing in a college football practice.
Now, after nearly 19 months of rehab and recovery following a gruesome break that splintered his lower leg in early October 2013, the Notre Dame graduate student looks to make his mark as a fifth-year player and member of what could be a formidable inside linebacker rotation for second-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s unit.
Irish Illustrated continues its ND A-to-Z series with former Colerain (Cincinnati) High School product, Jarrett Grace.
Grace’s dedication to date and his continued efforts over the summer and in August Camp result in an eventual starting spot inside next to Jaylon Smith. His ability to diagnose plays and stuff the run provide the perfect complement to the playmaking ability of Smith and Notre Dame’s defense wins the day vs. peers Georgia Tech, Clemson, and USC as they head into the November home stretch.
At his best, Grace can be expected to surpass the production and overall play of predecessors Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese – two other inside ‘backers that benefitted from greatness next to them inside.
Should Grace not earn a starting nod but compete in good health throughout 2015, his style of play would be of great value vs. the power and/or option rushing attacks of Virginia, Georgia Tech, Navy, Pittsburgh, and Stanford.
Grace’s debilitating injury robs him of the half-step of initial quickness he desperately needs to compete at a championship level and as a result, Joe Schmidt and Nyles Morgan are clearly the better options at the Mike linebacker position.
A healthy Schmidt and blossoming Morgan relegate Grace to the bench with the exception of goal line/short-yardage situations and the fifth-year senior is forced to again earn his keep on special teams – an unfortunate fit post-injury in that his initial quickness has been mitigated.
Sans injury, Grace’s statistical arc resembles that of mid-1980s middle linebacker John McCabe. Entering his senior season in 1985, McCabe had posted 43 total tackles – all in 1984 – filling in for starters Tony Furjanic and Mike Kovaleski over a four-game stint.
Grace’s career totals show 52 total stops – 40 of which came in a six-game stint in 2013 that includes three career starts in place of starter Dan Fox inside. Like McCabe, Grace posted double-digit tackle totals in his first start, two seasons after redshirting as a true freshman.
In terms of a career interrupted by injury, Grace can point to the recovery efforts of former Irish linebacker Michael Stonebreaker, who, after missing his senior season due to a broken kneecap and dislocated hip, earned All-America honors as a fifth-year senior in 1990.
Grace’s mid-season ascent as a 2013 junior (redshirt-sophomore) was commensurate with what Irish fans should hope for in a three-star prospect. The difference between Grace and most three-star prospects was the faith bestowed upon him prior to his initial opportunity, both from his mentor, Manti Te’o, and the Irish coaching staff.
That projection seemed to come to fruition in late-September of his third season, but injury and recovery robbed Grace of nearly 18 months of football thereafter.
Grace was a three-star prospect in overall skill set but a four-star when intangibles were entered into the equation. Should he regain his form over the next two seasons (he could earn a sixth year of eligibility), Grace could earn the honor of captaincy and serve as a crucial cog in what will be a heavy rotation inside.
Grace’s best individual outing likely came in his first career start, a mid-September 2013 outing at Purdue. Subbing for the ineffective Dan Fox who was hampered by a shoulder injury, Grace posted a team-best 10 tackles including two for gains of just two yards on running back Akeem Hunt while also negating a third-down-conversion screen play to hunt to force a Boilermakers punt.
Grace added his first career pass defended in the fourth quarter, breaking up a pass intended for tight end Justin Sinz that forced another Purdue punt. The Irish offense killed the clock with a 13-play, 7:22 drive thereafter to seal a 31-24 victory.
“When I grow up, I want to be Jarrett Grace. His dedication is unmatched.”
-- Manti Te’o, October 2012