Catching up with… Hannah Storm

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While her allegiances might not be as well known as other celebrities, Hannah Storm takes a back seat to no Notre Dame fan. In between trailblazing a path as an award-winning sports and newscaster, raising three daughters, writing books, producing movies, and starting her own charitable foundation, Hannah never misses a Saturday with the Notre Dame football team.

I was lucky enough to track down Hannah on her commute home from work, where she co-hosts daytime SportsCenter with Josh Elliott. (As pictured.) We spent plenty of time discussing a journalism career that started as a student broadcaster at WNDU, the late game antics of this Irish football team, and everything in between.

I hope you enjoy Catching Up… with Hannah Storm.

ON JOINING ESPN AFTER A STORIED CAREER AT CNN, NBC, AND CBS:

I love news, political reporting and covering breaking news, and loved the diversity of morning television news in particular, but after several years away, I began to really appreciate the concept and quality of sports broadcasting. It’s like doing breaking news all the time. Each game is an event. In a three hour show, you do quite a bit of breaking sports news, and you get to exercise those muscles a lot. Helping ESPN launch daytime SportsCenter, it was a perfect marriage with my experience and sensibilities. It worked with my personal life and having three children and being with them when they got off the bus, and not a lot of travel on the weekend. That daytime/morning slot, it has always been a big priority for me as a mom, and it felt like the best place for me to work. And the allure of being able to talk sports on TV for 15 hours a week, that was pretty powerful.

ON BALANCING FAMILY LIFE WITH HUSBAND DAN HICKS, NBC’S GOLF HOST:

One person is always at home. Dan is gone a good portion of weekends and the tail-end of the week. The weekends I usually have off, except during football seasons, where I work Sunday mornings, but it gives me all of Saturday and most of Sunday to be around. I have the furthest drive of everybody except one other regular anchor at ESPN, so I have a long commute every day, but I listen to the radio on the way in to catch up, and on the way home I do a lot of business. It usually works out where he’s there to take the kids to school in the morning and I’m home when the kids get home. Our schedules balance out really well, but sometimes it makes it that we don’t get enough time together, but in terms of our family as a whole, it works out well with our daughters.

ON STARTING A SPORTS-JOURNALISM CAREER AFTER GRADUATING FROM ND:

Sports were a part of my life, part of dinner table discussions and the fabric of my family. Sports were naturally where I wanted to go, but the only problem was there weren’t women doing sportscasting at the time. It was a highly unusual career choice and one that was quite challenging to get off the ground. I literally send hundreds of resumes and tapes with my work in college where I was a news reporter at WNDU. I couldn’t get anyone to hire me, and a male news director in a small market told me that a woman in that position is something the audience wouldn’t embrace and a sports director wouldn’t be happy working with a woman. On and on… I heard this from every single office I got into.

So my father, the ultimate optimist, said there are way more radio stations than TV stations, so I started applying for radio jobs. I went and made a radio tape, sat in the studio and recorded a couple of sports reports and started sending my radio tapes out. I got a job offer to do news in San Angelo, Texas and one to be a disc jockey at a heavy metal station in Corpus Christi. So I started DJ’ing in Corpus Christ and from there I kept trying to get into sports and finally I answered an ad for a job as a sportscaster in Houston during afternoon drive. It wasn’t very far away, so I made another reel, recorded it, and literally drove my tape and resume to Houston, went to the office, and sat in the lobby and waited for the program director. I was nervous, but how else was I going to introduce myself? I gave a very quick hello and handing him my reel and resume. I got a call back within three or four days, and the only thing he said that he really liked in my resume was that I had gone to Notre Dame.

ON PUBLIC SERVICE HOLDING A SPECIAL PLACE IN HER HEART:

My mother was very service oriented when we were growing up. That was something that was also part of our family’s fabric and something that flourished at Notre Dame, because there were so many opportunities to volunteer. I always dreamed of establishing a journalism scholarship of some sort, and also because I was born with a pretty significant birth mark on my face called a Port-wine stain, always wanted to help other children that were born in my position and needed surgery, but weren’t as fortunate as I was. Now that I have the ability to put my name on a foundation, after leaving CBS I started the Hannah Storm Foundation. We do a journalism scholarship through the alumni office at Notre Dame that allows kids to actually get real practical experience and build a portfolio of things that are published when they leave school. The other big part of our mission is to advocate on a national scale on behalf of children with these birthmarks. We’re working with the US government to change the insurance code so families will have an easier time getting covered, as well as going state by state getting Port-wine stains listed as medical procedures so people don’t have to pay out of pocket to get these surgeries. There are a lot of people that have this condition and just because of a birthmark they aren’t drawn to a profession in the public eye. It’s not a cause that’s talked about and I’m just very fortunate that I can have some type of celebrity that helps me bring a voice to this.

ON COVERING THE IRISH AS A NATIONAL JOURNALIST:

At NBC, I was told if there’s ever a flicker of favoritism towards Notre Dame that it’d be the last Notre Dame game I’d ever do. NBC was really conscientious in a very responsible way of making sure that we were fair, and as a ND grad, they went to me and said that I can’t show any favoritism for my alma mater. For me, it was a great exercise in being objective. Let’s face it, as a news reporter and a sports reporter, it’s critical.

Now that I’m at ESPN everyone who watches our show sort of knows that Josh like the Dodgers and the Lakers and I like Notre Dame, the Rockets and the Braves. Our show is very personality oriented, and when I was at CBS on the Early Show and now at ESPN, those kind of things leak out. Now I’m more well known as an avid Irish fan, although I obviously report the game objectively. There’s no way to flip it around or make it into something it’s not. If anything, I’m probably more brutally honest about my school because it’s mine and I care so much about it.

ON THE FATE OF THE IRISH FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON:

With this team, who knows? They’ve played so many close games and they’ve had the luck of the Irish along the way, as well as made their own opportunities along the way. With this team, I wouldn’t even try to predict the rest of the season. But I’ll tell you one thing, you turn on a ND game, each week it’s going to be exciting. I’ve been a little nervous and missed a few five o’clock masses because the Irish haven’t wrapped things up, but I think it’s been one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory for sure. 

Just in case you thought life wasn’t busy enough for Hannah, we also spent some time talking about her upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 project, a film called Unmatched. The movie chronicles the incredible 80 match rivalry between tennis stars Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and was Ha
nnah’s first foray into the
film business and was directed and produced with Emmy Award winning producers Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern. Find more about the project here.

For more information about the Hannah Storm foundation, click here.  

   

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman, Kona Schwenke, dies at 25

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Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, 25, reportedly died in his sleep Sunday morning. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Schwenke spent four seasons along the Irish defensive front, culminating in a 23-tackle senior season, in 2013. Attrition along the defensive line in his first two seasons forced Schwenke into playing time, costing him a likely fifth-year with much greater production. He played in 31 games total, making 30 tackles.

Part of a Hawaiian surge in Notre Dame recruiting, Schwenke joined the likes of receiver Robby Toma and linebacker Manti Te’o in coming from the island in 2009 and 2010. The first two committed during Charlie Weis’ tenure, but Schwenke made the leap at the very beginning of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, one of the first recruits to commit to Kelly at Notre Dame. Since then, sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has renewed the trend.

Schwenke graduated in 2014 with a degree in anthropology. He then signed with the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, moving around four different NFL franchises chasing his dream. Earlier this month he took part in a scouting event, The Spring League, gaining some notice when he forced Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel into a fumble.

Former Irish teammates took to social media Sunday afternoon celebrating Schwenke’s life and friendship.