While it's not unchartered territory for a rookie defensive end, the task that awaits Lewis-Moore is daunting nonetheless.
"At the end of the day, I'm really glad I redshirted because I (was able) to focus on my grades," explained Lewis-Moore in the spring.
That year of apprenticeship preserved a season of eligibility for Lewis-Moore (he'll likely be a member of the program through the 2012 season), a wise decision considering the probable minimal impact an 18-year-old defensive end would have had on a 7-6 football team. Due to an impressive resume of fall and bowl game practices, KLM was named the team's preliminary starter at left defensive end entering spring ball and he "retained" that spot despite sitting out a good portion of the spring(and the Blue-Gold Game) with a foot injury.
Lewis-Moore will face an immediate test in camp from senior pass-rushing specialist Morrice Richardson and possibly sophomore DT/DE Ethan Johnson if the defensive staff deems both (junior DE) Kerry Neal and (redshirt freshman DT) Hafis Williams ready for prime time prior to the season-opener vs. Nevada.
Ideally, and not unrealistically, five starters would emerge for the four-man line (KLM and Neal at DE; Hafis Williams and junior Ian Williams at DT/NT; and Johnson, the unit's best player, as a hybrid inside/outside threat). Richardson could then provide a 3rd down pass-rush punch, senior John Ryan would find a niche role outside, and two other redshirt freshmen, NT Brandon Newman and DT Sean Cwynar could work into the rotation sooner rather than later.
Lewis-Moore is one of many Irish X-factors entering the season, two of which are rookies (Hafis Williams) that reside on the team's defensive line. Consistent play on the edge vs. the run in base sets and, reportedly, as an interior pass-rusher in long-yardage situations will be crucial to the success of the team's rush defense and third-down efficiency.
Notable Performances by Redshirt Freshman DL:
- DT Trevor Laws (2004): Sat as a freshman for the 5-7 team of 2003 (one that actually featured a quality, but intermittently injured defensive line including Justin Tuck, Cedric Hilliard, Darrell Campbell, Kyle Budinscak and freshman Victor Abiamiri). Laws emerged in '04, playing 12 games at defensive tackle and finishing with 17 solos (two for lost yardage) a sack, two pass break-ups, a forced fumble and subsequent recovery.
- DE Justin Tuck (2002): Sat out the 2001 season as an under-recruited outside linebacker but exploded onto the scene for one of the most entertaining Irish defenses in recent memory, recording 44 tackles (10 for lost yardage), five sacks, two pass break-ups and a forced fumble for the nation's 13-ranked defense.
- OLB/DE Renaldo Wynn (1993): Sat out 1992 (a talent-laden roster) and emerged in the Spring of '93 with 14 tackles in the Blue-Gold Game. Wynn started at outside linebacker in September for the eventual 11-1 Irish but made the move to defensive end near mid-season, serving as a backup to fellow redshirt frosh Thomas Knight (below) then winning the starting LDE spot for the Cotton Bowl. The future first round draft pick posted 19 tackles (1.5 for lost yardage) and three sacks for the No. 2 ranked Irish.
- DE Thomas Knight (1993): Knight sat out '92 and ranks as an obscure example of an eventual top-tier redshirt freshman performer. He came on midway through the '93 season, starting at defensive end vs. Pittsburgh, Florida State and Boston College while recording 26 tackles (five for lost yardage), two sacks, and four pass break-ups. Knight also forced Heisman Trophy Winner Charlie Ward into a key second quarter interception with pass-rush pressure on the Seminoles QB in his own end zone. He was ruled ineligible for the 1994 season and eventually transferred.
- OLB/DE Devon McDonald (1989): Perhaps the best preliminary comparison in terms of his overall game to KLM, McDonald was a key scout team member for the '88 National Champs and emerged in '89 to play in 10 games and start four. McDonald shined vs. a quality Michigan State team (eight tackles in a 21-13 win); vs. No. 2 Michigan (seven tackles in a 24-19 victory) and vs. No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl, finishing with five tackles in the 21-6 beating of he previously undefeated Buffaloes. He posted 34 tackles and four sacks as a pass-rushing outside linebacker – one who played the majority of his snaps with his hand on the ground (ostensibly a defensive end).
- NT Chris Zorich (1988): Zorich did not play in 1987 then promptly changed the dynamic of the best Irish defense of the last 30 years with his ferocious attitude and volatile approach to every snap. He dominated as a sophomore nose tackle for the eventual National Champions, registering 74 tackles (five for lost yardage), 3.5 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, and recovering 3 fumbles.