Asmar Bilal didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at Notre Dame last summer, but the freshman linebacker didn’t assume his first year in South Bend would automatically mean getting stuck on the sidelines.
Even with the Irish loaded at the position, the former four-star recruit from Indianapolis hoped to get on the field. It never happened because Notre Dame didn’t need it to with Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt ever-present while James Onwualu and Greer Martini rounded out the lineup.
So Notre Dame relegated Bilal to the scout team where he made an impact just the same. That meant Bilal got plenty of looks from head coach Brian Kelly, who couldn’t help but notice the 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker working against his offense.
“I think that word ‘flash’ is probably it,” Kelly said. “Very athletic, runs well. Kind of mature for his age.”
Bilal won Scout Team Player of the Year for Notre Dame’s defense during the team’s awards show on Friday night while Tristen Hoge claimed the honor on offense.
With Schmidt and Jarrett Grace done and Smith a probable NFL Draft departure, Bilal will find more opportunity next season even if he can’t get a starting job. Kelly said Bilal could be a Sam (Onwualu, Martini) or Will (Smith, TeVon Coney) next season. At a minimum, it’s hard to imagine him not being a special teams regular.
“Kind of coming in I thought I would kind of be able to, I don’t know, be up there,” Bilal said. “I just played with the cards dealt. It was a great learning experience being on the scout team.”
Bilal said he linked up with classmate Josh Barajas as the two in-state freshman linebackers red-shirted and worked on the scout squad. Learning from Smith, Schmidt, Onwualu and Grace helped, but having a contemporary outside the spotlight was key.
“I just kind of needed those guys to bring me in and just so I can enjoy this experience,” Bilal said. “I feel I’ve learned a lot. I feel I’m able to sit in the film sessions. I’ve learned a lot from great guys, Jaylon being in front of me.”
Not only did Kelly praise Bilal’s athleticism, he gave the freshman high marks for football intellect. At a minimum, that should put the linebacker in position to be a Next Man In next season if the Irish need one.
“He has a maturity to him with the way he comes to practice every day, very focused kid,” Kelly said. “He has some traits and obviously they’re not just running around. He has some physicality to him. He has a good sense of where he is when he drops (on coverage). It’s not like he’s looking for receivers, he senses and feels receivers.
“He’s gonna be a really good football player for us.”