From a freshman season full of promise and playing time to a career derailed by injuries and surgeries.
Notre Dame graduate Chase Hounshell was expected (by all) to have the moniker “former football player” affixed to his name in the summer of 2015. Instead, the fifth-year senior’s perseverance and desire to be part of the program has afforded him a chance to play an extra season of football this fall – and on the offensive side of scrimmage, to boot.
Irish Illustrated continues its ND A-to-Z series with the erstwhile defensive lineman turned tight end hopeful.
Hounshell benefits from a return to September 2012, that is, a healthy dose of three tight end sets are used as the Irish offense features a power running game while also protecting a rookie quarterback in crucial situations.
Durham Smythe is Notre Dame’s starting tight end, and according to Kelly, the team’s best blocker at the position. In order for Hounshell to see time as the No. 3 tight end he must show his value as an in-line blocker is greater than that of the pass-catching prowess provided by fellow backups Nic Weishar, Mike Heuerman, and incoming five-star freshman Aliz’e Jones.
Should Hounshell prove his wares as a blocker, his unexpected fifth season at the program could prove to be his most important. Said Kelly of Hounshell at the tail end of spring practice: “He's big, he's strong, he's physical and he has the 'want to.' I'm fairly pleased with where we are. We could have four tight ends there that could contribute at that position which would really help our offense."
The preternaturally talented Jones or promising Weishar impresses in August Camp and earns immediate playing time. The presence of a pass-catching tight end on an offense already loaded with wide receivers thus mitigates the need for power three tight end sets and the Irish roll on without Hounshell’s services.
In order to play, Hounshell has to either beat out Luatua as the team’s next best blocking tight end Smythe, or he must benefit from a dedicated return to power football, one in which three tight ends have value.
A handful of former Irish players moved from various positions to tight end. Quarterbacks Gary Godsey and Jared Clark made the switch during the Tyrone Willingham era. So too did hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker Jerome Collins, who parlayed that versatility into a three-year NFL career after being tabbed in the fifth-round by the St. Louis Rams.
Former classmate Troy Niklas moved from Bob Diaco’s front seven to tight end and developed into one of the nation’s best at the position in his second season after the switch.
Hounshell’s move from the trenches is best compared to John Owens (1998-2001). Initially a tight end and a freshman season monogram winner to boot, Owens moved to defensive end for his junior season (2000). He moved back to tight end as a senior in 2001,
Like Hounshell, the six-foot three, 255-pound Owens entered his final season with six total tackles. He finished his senior season thereafter with six receptions including a touchdown and went on to play for eight NFL teams over a career that spanned nine seasons.
A three-star defensive end prospect and the 97th ranked defensive end in 2011 per Scout.com, Hounshell debuted in Game Five of his freshman season, playing in seven of the final eight contests.
Three shoulder injuries and subsequent surgeries followed, robbing him of a chance to develop at the position.
There’s nothing like your first time, and for Chase Hounshell, that debut occurred against Air Force’s triple-option attack. A true freshman defensive end, Hounshell moved inside as part of a special four-down front used to negate the fullback/power aspect of the Falcons’ potent attack (ranked No. 3 nationally in 2011).
Hounshell recorded four tackles off the bench including a pair of stops that limited Air Force ball carriers to just two yard gains.
“Well, Chase knocked down my door, wouldn't leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, Coach, I want to be part of this team. I have something to offer.
“That hasn't been the case over the past couple years. I've had fifth-year seniors that didn't want to be part of the team. So when we had guys that had opportunities to compete and be part of our football team, they chose to want to be one-year starters somewhere else.
“When Chase said, Coach, I'll do anything, I'll play any position you want me to play, I just want to be part of this football team.
We said, ‘We don't really have a role for you on the defensive line, but we could use a big, physical, blocking tight end. Would you be interested in that role?’
“He said, ‘Coach, I'll do whatever you ask me to do.’
“Nothing has been decided. He's willing to go through spring and give it a shot and we'll see where it goes from there. He's been a great teammate, great in the locker room. The guys really enjoy having him. We like his team-first mentality, so we're going to give him a chance to earn a roster spot playing tight end.” -- Kelly on Hounshell’s surprising inclusion on the 2015 spring roster.