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No. 9 Notre Dame: Could the Irish add a receiving role for All-American safety Hamilton?

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is one of the Fighting Irish's most important players — defensively. But there has been some speculation this summer that the 6-4, 221-pound All-American might be effective on offense too, lining up at wide receiver.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Imagining Kyle Hamilton as a wide receiver doesn't require too much creativity.

Notre Dame's All-American safety certainly has the size, speed and leaping ability that are valuable to the position.

The idea of the 6-4, 221-pound Hamilton doing so for the Irish offense has long been bandied about on Notre Dame message boards, podcasts, blogs and social media. The conversation has even made its way into the hallways of the athletics complex.

That became clear in June when Hamilton, a junior, retweeted a photoshopped meme depicting Notre Dame fan and writer Greg Flammang passing a note to offensive coordinator Tommy Rees that read, "Play Kyle on offense."

In Hamilton's retweet, he tagged Rees and used the shrugging emoji.

Rees responded: "@kham316 you know we've been on this way before now.. talk to your man! @Marcus_Freeman1."

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, right, intercepts a pass in the 2019 game against Virginia Tech. Hamilton also was a receiver in high school, catching 38 passes for 804 yards and seven touchdowns his senior year.

Then defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman chimed in with a retweet of his own. He tagged Rees as well, used the thumbs up emoji, typed a series of periods and followed them with the thumbs down emoji.

The tweet was accompanied by a GIF of former wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin laughing before a sudden switch to a serious, possibly even stone-cold, stare.

The concept didn't die there.

"At first, I thought it was a big joke," Freeman said. "I'm like, 'Listen, guys, we're going to have a little Twitter fun, but we're not really talking about this.' I think I've heard coach Rees walk by my office three or four times and say 'Hey, man. Let's get the best players on the field.'"

Hamilton, who caught 38 passes for 804 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior at Atlanta's Marist School, doesn't expect his wide receiver career to go further than a running joke among him, Freeman and Rees.

"We have a great receiving corps and I would never want to do anything that takes playing time away from them, because I know how hard they work," Hamilton said. "They're all on scholarship for a reason.

"I'm not on scholarship to play receiver. I'm not good enough, but they definitely are. We have one of the best receiving corps in the country. They're going to do their job. Just some friendly banter going back and forth."

Notre Dame will enter the 2021 season with plenty of question marks at wide receiver.

The unit lost its top two pass catchers from last season — Javon McKinley (42 receptions) and Ben Skowronek (29) — to the NFL. Returning grad senior Avery Davis (24 catches) is the only receiver who recorded more than seven receptions last season.

Then two freshman wide receivers from last season — Jordan Johnson and Jay Brunelle — transferred to Central Florida and Yale, respectively, following spring practices.

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, right, celebrates with fellow defensive back Jeremiah Osusu-Koramoah after making a fourth-down stop against Navy in their 2019 game.

That means Notre Dame's wide receiver production will likely rely on Davis and a quartet of seniors who haven't been able to either stay healthy or play consistently: Kevin Austin Jr., Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III and Joe Wilkins Jr.

Getting the best out of that group will fall on Rees and wide receivers coach Del Alexander. If Hamilton can help, Freeman doesn't want to be the one to completely close the door.

"Listen, if Kyle Hamilton's going to get us points, great. I love it. Utilize him," Freeman said. "But he has a job to do on defense, I'll tell you that. You better make sure he does that too.

"I'm a team guy. But that might cost Tommy too now in terms of they have some dudes that I want to utilize on our side of the ball too. So if we're going to trade, we'll trade."

Making sure Hamilton plays to his potential at safety will require him staying healthy too. He dealt with a left ankle injury for much of last season that wasn't serious enough to sideline him a lot, but it did limit him. That's why Hamilton opted to have surgery on his ankle in January and miss spring practice.

All things considered, Hamilton playing wide receiver this season still seems more of a dream than reality. But if head coach Brian Kelly thinks it's a smart move, anything could happen.

"We'll see what the boss man says about it," Freeman said. "Me and Tommy can go back and forth with this, but there's one man that's making that decision and we know who that is."

Our preseason Top 25

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

Our previous Top 25 team stories:

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels are hoping, banking on good returns from Lane Kiffin 3.0

No. 24 Washington: Huskies' Morris looks like the quarterback to run with — for now

No. 23 Louisiana: Billy Napier could be college football's next big thing (if he wants that)

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions' safeties honed their craft at Lackawanna

No. 21 Oklahoma State: The next Gundy (Gunnar) begins his Cowboys career

No. 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes' Dane Belton knows path to NFL goes through team's success

No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Ready or not, the Chanticleers intend to stay awhile

No. 18 Texas: Bijan Robinson looks ready to carry the load for Longhorns

No. 17 Wisconsin: Spirited spring helped Badgers bond, players say

No. 16 Miami: Manny Diaz seems intent on building Hurricanes from local talent

No. 15 Oregon: Ducks' program is now  reaching recruiting, NFL draft high marks

No. 14 LSU: Questions that Tigers have taken with them this summer

No. 13 Indiana: Texas A&M transfer Camron Buckley gives Hoosiers another weapon

No. 12 USC: All signs are pointing up for Trojans, making it sunny again in California

No. 11 Florida: Gators have holes to fill, but already sounding confident

No. 10 North Carolina: Tar Heels' Sam Howell managing the hype, expectations