Of Notre Dame’s 23 recruits signed over the last month, 12 of them are on the defensive side of the ball, including two players who boast NFL pedigrees. Among the new signees are defensive end Bryce Young, son of former Irish defensive tackle and NFL Hall of Famer Bryant Young, and safety Kennedy Urlacher, son of Chicago Bears legend and Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher.
“When your dads are Hall of Famers, the fathers can say, ‘This game will end.’ And you want to make a decision that will help you reach all your athletic goals,” said Irish head coach Marcus Freeman. “Don’t cheat your athletic goal but understand the game of football ends so fast. And you’re talking about guys that have played multiple years in, 13, 14, 15 years in the NFL. But I think even talking to Brian Urlacher, he’s able to tell Kennedy, ‘Hey man, this game is gonna end, so go somewhere where you can maximize your football opportunities but understand set yourself up for life after football.
“I think Bryce is different because his parents both went here,” Freeman continued. “But Brian didn’t, and still understood how special this place was, so I think it speaks volumes to guys that have played the game at the highest level. One of the best to ever do it in talking both the Urlachers and the Youngs, but also the understanding of football, the career, no matter how long you play, it’s short.”
One of the best edge players in the country, Bryce Young, 6-5, 250 pounds, is a four-star recruit out of Charlotte, North Carolina. He selected Notre Dame over USC, Michigan, Penn State, Miami, and Tennessee. His impressive stat line in 2023 includes 97 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, and three forced fumbles at Charlotte Christian. Young has all the tools the Irish need in a big-time edge player. He is long, fast, and explosive. He proved nearly unblockable in his senior season.
Bryce’s father, Bryant, enjoyed a Hall of Fame career with the San Francisco 49ers. Inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2022, Bryant recorded 89.5 sacks in his illustrious 14-year playing career that spanned 208 games. He played in four Pro Bowls, and he was named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1990s, as well as the 1994 All-Rookie Team.
“Well, you know, his last name obviously tells us what his bloodline is like,” Freeman said. “Nobody talks about his mom, who was a track star. He gets it from his mom. He came to camp, and he was tall, skinny, but he showed some skill sets that said OK, this guy is going to be good. Now you look at him, he’s huge. In a year, might have been a year and a half, he’s gained weight. I think he’s even gotten taller. He has the tools. He has everything I’m sure his father had when he came here. He’s going to be a great player for us.”
Hailing from Chandler, Arizona, Urlacher can match up against tight ends and can also be a weapon against the run. A tenacious defender and a punishing tackler, Urlacher chose Notre Dame over Miami, Penn State, Nebraska, and TCU, among others. In 2023, Urlacher recorded 47 tackles, one interception, and two forced fumbles. The year before, Urlacher had 34 tackles, one interception, and two pass break-ups.
Urlacher possesses above-average speed, but at 6’1 and 180 pounds, he will need to make a physical jump in the weight room to be most effective. Adding strength will enable him to become even more powerful on the field, reminiscent of his father. Brian played all 13 seasons in the NFL with the Bears. The versatile linebacker played in eight Pro Bowls and was named to the All-Decade Team of the 2000s. In 2005, Brian was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Elite defender and five-star linebacker Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa, while not a son of an NFL Hall of Famer, is certain to bolster the Irish defense. From St. John Bosco in Southern California, Viliamu-Asa is ranked as the No. 22 overall recruit in his class. He is the No. 2 inside linebacker, per rivals.com. As a rare five-star recruit, Viliamu-Asa could have gone anywhere he wanted, but he chose Notre Dame over USC and Ohio State.
“He’s probably the most college-ready recruit we have, physically, mentally,” said Freeman. “Comes from an unbelievable program in St. Bosco, but he’s so mature. He’s got, the more you talk to him, he’s got a goofy side, but Kyngstonn is mature. I already said, he’s like a grown man.
“As a football player, he is a physical tackler. He is physical in block destruction. There are a lot of traits he has that make him one of the highest-rated linebackers in the country. To get him here, get him here early, he’ll have a chance to compete right away for sure.”
In speaking with reporters about some of the recent signees, Freeman suggested that he looked beyond the playing field when securing talent. Players like Bryce Young and Kennedy Urlacher represent Freeman’s ideology.
“I think it’s important to recruit families because young people, it’s hard for them to see beyond the game of football,” Freeman said. “I was that person at a time, all you can see is yourself making the NFL. You’re not worried about life after football. What’s important as parents, myself included, is to say, ‘OK, son or daughter, athletics will be over. What place gives you a chance to maximize your athletic opportunities but also sets you up for the rest of your life?
“And so, I think it’s important that you have adults that maybe have played or maybe have been through college sports and athletics to be able to say, ‘make sure you understand that this is more than just a football decision. We say, four-for-40, right? This is a decision that’s gonna last for a long time.”