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April 13, 2012

Lynch's head, heart not at ND


NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Friday the 13th, 2012, will be a memorable day in Notre Dame football history.

That's the day Brian Kelly announced that defensive end Aaron Lynch - Notre Dame's leading sack man as a true freshman in 2011 - would be leaving the university and transferring to another school, likely in his home-state of Florida.

"As you know, Aaron Lynch has quit the football team," said Kelly Friday morning following the team's 11th practice of the spring inside the Loftus Sports Center.

"I spent some time with Aaron over the last week to 10 days. As you know, I gave him time off from practice and wanted him to reflect on being here at Notre Dame.

Lynch played in 12 games for the Irish as a freshman in 2011.

"The bottom line is your head and your heart has to be in it to be a Notre Dame student-athlete. The challenges are great here, and if your head and heart are not in it, you just can't be successful here."

So ends Lynch's brief but dynamic and often times unsettled year in the Notre Dame program, which began with his early enrollment last spring, moved forward with a team-leading 5 ½-sacks and 14 quarterback hurries in the fall, followed by an unsettled winter and spring that ultimately led to the decision to part ways.

"Aaron and I talked about it and mutually agreed that the best decision for him is to leave the football team, which he has decided to do," Kelly said. "He'll finish out the semester. It's important that he does that, and then he'll pursue other opportunities."

Lynch, who verbally committed to the Irish, de-committed to pledge to Florida State, and then re-upped with the Irish before signing in February, never could quite settle in at Notre Dame, where his matriculation never took hold.

Kelly said he sent Lynch home to gather his thoughts prior to the Easter break, and then anticipated continuing talks with Lynch upon his return. Lynch did indeed come back to Notre Dame after Easter break, but didn't practice with the team Wednesday or Friday.

"There is a point where you're either in or your not," Kelly said. "Like in recruiting, we're laying our cards on the table. Here's who we are. This is what you're going to get when you come here.

"We're not going to say, 'Hey, you don't have to live in the dorms.' No, you've got to live in the dorms. We don't say, 'Hey, it's easy in the classroom. Don't worry about it.' We don't say, 'Hey, it doesn't snow here.' The fact of the matter is when you're opened up like that, you have to be that same way within the program, and we wish him the best.

"You've got a guy who is young and you want to see him mature, and then you hit a point where you know it's not about growing up, it's about where your heart is."

Kelly said he didn't sense Lynch's disgruntlement at Notre Dame last spring after his early enrollment because there was the anticipation of how he would be incorporated into the defensive scheme, and then when fall rolled around, he was in the mix from the outset.

It was during the early months of 2012 that Kelly sensed Lynch's unhappiness.

"When I walk through the locker room, I'm always trying to look for guys that have their head down, and I just saw that he had that body language that we needed to spend some more time with him," Kelly said.

Kelly stopped short of saying that he would sign off on an unconditional release for Lynch to transfer to the school of his choice. With Lynch remaining at Notre Dame for the balance of the semester, which ends in less than a month, the process of granting his release still needs to play itself out.

Early speculation centers on Lynch transferring to South Florida or Florida.

"Anybody that doesn't want to be here, we're certainly not going to hold him back and take his future away from him," Kelly said. "But we'll discuss that. That's the next stage we'll get into."

Asked how Lynch's departure has impacted the team, Kelly said: "It doesn't really affect them. If it was doubles in tennis and that was your tennis partner, it might affect (them) a little bit. But when you have a football team of 85 guys…"

Kelly also said he is confident the Irish have enough quality depth at defensive end to stick to the standard "next man in" philosophy.

"We have so many options in terms of Kap (Kapron Lewis-Moore), who's had a great spring," Kelly said. "He gets pushed back to that starting position. (Stephon) Tuitt has great flexibility. We really love what Sheldon Day is doing, and we haven't even put (Tony) Springmann and (Chase) Hounshell on the field yet (this spring).

"So we feel blessed that we're able to feel really good about our defensive line, even losing a really good player like Aaron Lynch."



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