By JOHN FINERAN, Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — No. 14 Notre Dame has suspended a third player for the Citrus Bowl against No. 16 LSU.
Junior tight end Alize Mack, who saw considerable playing time this year after missing the 2016 season because of academic issues, will miss the Jan. 1 game against the Tigers (9-3) because of “an internal team matter,” coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. He did not disclose details but said the punishment is limited to the game in Orlando, Florida.
Already indefinitely suspended for the Fighting Irish (9-3) are sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson and freshman running back C.J. Holmes, who were arrested on shoplifting charges last week at a mall in nearby Mishawaka.
“If I could explain 18- to 20-year-olds and their thought process after being in (this career) for 27 years, I’d have written that book already,” Kelly said of Stepherson and Holmes. “We try to expose our kids to the foundational principals of making good decisions. They broke one of our commandments — you can’t steal and they did. I can tolerate a lot of things but I can’t tolerate stealing. That’s why they are suspended indefinitely and they’ve put themselves into jeopardy.”
Kelly said he was still considering the length of the suspensions for Holmes, who saw limited action in eight games, and Stepherson, who caught 19 passes for 359 yards and five touchdowns after missing the first four games as punishment for off-field issues.
In August 2016, Stepherson was among several Notre Dame players in a car that was stopped for a defective light. Officers smelled marijuana and a search of the car discovered a gun that belonged to senior safety Max Redfield.
Stepherson was arrested for possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty but played during the season, making 25 receptions for 462 yards and five touchdowns. Redfield was kicked off the team.
“I’m not going to get into specifics what his future is going to be,” Kelly said about Stepherson, a highly recruited player from Jacksonville, Florida. “Clearly (he’s) a young man who made a poor choice and it’s not his first. We’ve got to evaluate all those things before I make my decision.
“It’s like anything else — we ask our players to be smart and to make good choices,” Kelly added. “I don’t go into this business expecting our kids to be perfect. We expect our kids to make good choices, and if they don’t, they have to be held accountable.”
Mack shared time at tight end with three others and played in 10 games for Notre Dame, making 19 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown.
The suspensions of Stepherson and Mack are another blow for the Irish offense. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s receiving corps was already without freshman tight end Brock Wright and sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool; both suffered recent shoulder injuries that required surgery.
Kelly said junior Equanimeous St. Brown would slide over from his normal starting spot to replace Stepherson and that Cameron Smith and C.J. Sanders and Chris Finke would pick up some of the slack at wide receiver. The playing time for Mack and Wright will be inherited by starter Durham Smythe and others.
LSU has its own issues: The Tigers will be missing injured linebackers Arden Key, Donnie Alexander and Corey Thompson. Coach Ed Orgeron also said this week that kicker Cameron Gamble was ineligible for the game.
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