SOUTH BEND – With his track background, senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy has always been proud of his conditioning.
But by the end of Notre Dame’s 37-35 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State on Jan. 1, Lenzy was as tired as he had ever been from a game since his arrival in South Bend.
“We had few bodies and we didn’t rotate too much,” Lenzy explained on Friday. “That was probably the least we played (all season).
“The fact that we pitched 68 times makes a very big difference between playing the whole game and being a 50-50 pass-run team and being a 75-25 pass-run team. I ran a deep ball which felt like every three games and I know I usually don’t get the ball on that, so it’s like running wind sprints like the whole game.”
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Lenzy finished with seven catches for 60 yards.
He recalls a few moments during the game when he asked Del Alexander, the former coach of Notre Dame, for a quick breather, but was told to stay on the field.
In those moments, Lenzy was frustrated as he knew he couldn’t regain his energy, which could have helped Notre Dame after falling behind in a second half.
But looking back on that game, he is humbled, knowing that he is now in a place where Notre Dame’s attack can’t get him off the field.
Lenzy is one of three Irish wideouts – along with seniors Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins Jr. — announcing a return for the 2022 season since the Fiesta Bowl. With the loss of Kevin Austin Jr., who declared himself for the NFL Draft, those three boys will be seen as leaders in a position many will see as a weakness for the Irish as they head into the 2022 season.
“I don’t think I’ll be the face,” Lenzy said. “AD (Avery Davis) is my leader, my cap and we will follow his lead. I certainly expect a big role, certainly. I think I’m ready for that and I’ve taken a step this year.”
Lenzy’s 2021 campaign was something of a breakthrough year after going into the season with just 18 career receptions.
He suffered multiple injuries to both shoulders, one in his left during fall camp, another in his right before the game in Virginia and another while preparing for the Fiesta Bowl, which he revealed to media on Friday. But he still achieved career highs in receptions (32), yards (350), and touchdowns (3).
“As a technician, I’ve definitely made a lot of improvements,” Lenzy said. “Still the weakest part of my game are the things that I improved a little bit. I got a better catcher as the season went on. I struggled sometimes with catching the first four or five games. About a week after I came back, I don’t’ I don’t think I had any trouble catching after that.”
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With new wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey coming in from Baylor, Lenzy expects his game to make big strides.
“I think I’m ready,” he said. “I think I took the steps to make that leap.”
In addition to Lenzy, Davis and Wilkins, Lorenzo Style Jr. and Deion Colzie the only other wideouts to return for the 2022 season, posting more than two catches last season. The Irish also have Matt Salerno, who recently got a scholarship, who had one catch for minus-4 yards last year.
Not much reinforcement will come through the Irish recruiting class as he has only signed one player to the position with four-star contender Tobias Merriweather of Camas, Wash., who chose not to enroll in South Bend early.
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman, who has been active on the transfer portal, has yet to tackle a wideout.
Because of these factors, Lenzy knows that more production is expected from him.
Matt Balis’ strength program, who is going through another low season in Director of Football Performance, will be critical for Lenzy to take that next step.
What does that look like? in Lenzy’s eyes, it’s stronger at the top of his routes, while breaking away from the line of scrimmage faster. Dan, eventually, combining his great playing skills with his smart.
“As I take these final steps,” Lenzy said, “I’m excited to see what happens.”