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Top Breakout Candidates for the 2024 Season

Written by Liam Farrell|Senior Staff Writer|Twitter/X: @LiamFarrell_IT

Photo by The Irish Tribune

The 2024 Notre Dame Fighting Irish do not lack experience. With a defense that will feature up to seven seniors and an offense anchored by three, the Irish will be counting on its veterans all season. However, with seven former players being selected in the 2024 NFL Draft, there are opportunities for underclassman to make a serious impact for the Irish. Let's look at five players that have the potential to break out for Notre Dame this year.

Charles Jagusah - OT

In the hunt to find the replacements for tackles Blake Fisher and Joe Alt stands 6'7" redshirt freshman Charles Jagusah. Jagusah, the former five-star prospect according to On3, made his first start last year in the bowl game against Oregon State, in which the freshmen stood his ground. During his redshirt year, Jagusah made great leaps in the development of his footspeed and strength.

In the Blue and Gold Game, Jagusah was matched up against Duke transfer RJ Oben, who faced Alt and the Irish last year, to which Alt recognized Oben as "One of the best players I faced all year". Oben's experience rivaled Jagusah's potential, as Oben barely won the one-on-one matchup against the 330-pound tackle. While Oben may be one of the best EDGE rushers he'll face all season, Jagusah showed he has the tools to compete. The redshirt freshman's performance at left tackle will be imperative for the overall success of the Irish this season.

Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa - LB

The next breakout player is one of the only freshmen who will likely see a sizeable amount of playing time in 2024, Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa. Viliamu-Asa came into South Bend as a college ready linebacker. His experience playing at St. John Bosco has given him a leg up against other freshmen in the country, as St. John Bosco's schedule features some of the best high school programs in the country.

His combination of size and speed is something that cannot be understated. During the Blue Gold game, Viliamu-Asa was simply all over the field. He was clogging holes in the running game, running sideline-to-sideline, and closing out well in pass coverage. On CJ Carr's first pass of the spring game, Viliamu-Asa had a near interception covering the middle of the field. He tracks the ball efficiently, which could be attributed to earning some reps at receiver in high school. Regardless, seeing the field early in his Notre Dame career, and being a leader even as a freshman could be a reality for the Southern California product.

Jason Onye - DL

The next player that will finally breakout for the Blue and Gold is Jason Onye. Onye, the redshirt junior out of North Providence, R.I., has been on the cusp of making a necessary impact for Notre Dame in the previous two seasons.

Last year, Onye tallied 17 tackles, and blocked two field goals. He appeared in all 13 games yet got minimal snaps backing up the defensive tackle tandem of Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills.

In summer camp last year, Jason Onye was the main "talk of the town", as his strength and physicality were outshining the Notre Dame offensive line. A year removed and new trust formed with defensive line coach Al Washington, Onye will receive more meaningful snaps next year. I predict his ability to be a change of pace from Cross and Mills will be necessary for the depth of this Notre Dame team, along with being a true run-stopper in the middle of the defense.

Boubacar Traore - DL

With the departure of Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Notre Dame will need to find a lengthy EDGE pass rusher to fill the shoes left by the newest member of the Washington Commanders. Enter Boubacar Traore.

Traore has displayed his ability to shine, with his one solo sack last year being a memorable one, as he took down former Heisman trophy winner, Caleb Williams, with a sack near the end of the 2nd quarter.

Traore's speed off the edge is something that Notre Dame has been missing since Isaiah Foskey's record-breaking 2021 season. Traore is young, being just a redshirt freshman, yet his upside and potential outshine anyone else in the room. The ends of the Irish's defensive line will be one of the biggest question marks heading into next season. Especially with such a talented secondary, if Traore and co. can speed up quarterbacks, the Notre Dame defense could make offenses pay.

Gi'Bran Payne - RB

The last player that I will highlight is yet another who has seen meaningful snaps for the Fighting Irish. Gi'Bran Payne, who was the short-yardage back last year, tallied 168 yards on 45 carries and rushed for two touchdowns. Payne also racked up 58 yards through the air on nine catches, for two touchdowns, as well.

Payne is simply the victim of a loaded running back room, yet his offseason improvements in speed and versatility have him resembling former Irish star Kyren Williams. Payne is a smaller back, yet he runs tougher than anyone else in the current running back room.

While Love and Price will receive most of the snaps early in the year, Payne's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run between the tackles makes him extremely useful. If Payne could make as big of a stride in pass protection as he made with his speed, he will receive more snaps for an electric Notre Dame offense.


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