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.  

   

Holmes out for spring; Jones & Jones shining

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Notre Dame’s spring continued over the weekend, and is all too often the case with football, that led to an injury. Early enrollee running back C.J. Holmes will probably miss the rest of spring practice due to a separated shoulder, Irish coach Brian Kelly announced following Saturday’s practice.

“We’ll get an MRI and know a little bit further on Monday once that calms down a little bit,” Kelly said. “We’ll get a picture of that and see. He had an open repair on that same shoulder his sophomore year in high school.”

Behind three backs, including two with experience, Holmes was unlikely to see playing time in the backfield in 2017.

Of those three backs, sophomore Tony Jones, Jr., is the unknown after preserving a year of eligibility last season. In limited practice viewing, however, Jones has only impressed. He has caught Kelly’s eye, as well.

“He’s 225 pounds, can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, [is] assignment correct, and can run elusively and can get into the second level,” Kelly said. “What does that equal? He’s a pretty good back.

“Obviously he was noticeable today in his play and he got some work with the first group as well. He wasn’t just getting second-team reps.”

Jones may be getting some first-unit exposure, but expect him to remain behind junior Josh Adams in the depth chart. Considering Jones’ style is somewhat comparable to Adams’, whereas junior Dexter Williams presents something of a change of pace, Williams should see more action than the sophomore, as well.

MORE PRAISE FOR ALIZE JONES
Junior tight end Alizé Jones—rather, Alizé Mack, per his Twitter account—has taken the lead in spring’s race of who reaps the most sound bite accolades. In complimenting Jones, who missed last season due to an academic suspension, Kelly also managed to laud new offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“I think Chip is doing a terrific job with [Jones],” Kelly said. “He’s got a good relationship. He knows how to rise him up when he needs to and scold him when he needs to. Alizé needs a little bit of that.

“He’s virtually un-coverable in certain areas of the field. I don’t care at any level. You can’t cover him. He just has that kind of talent. The one that I think stands out to me in the few days is he’s committed himself to being a blocker and playing physical. If he continues to do that, we’re going to find ourselves with a lot of tight ends on the field.”

Presumably, Jones would join graduate student tight end Durham Smythe in two tight end sets. It should be remembered, Long has historically shown a preference for such formations, and with Notre Dame’s plethora of options at the position, Long’s tendencies have no need to change. For that matter, Long had some praise for Jones this weekend, as well.

“Alizé can be as good as he wants to be,” Long said Friday. “…He’s growing up each and every day. Great joy to coach, and that whole group is. He doesn’t want to let that group down. There’s no question he can be as good as he wants to be.”

Friday at 4: 40-yard dashes and absurdity

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Of all the absurd things the football world often obsesses over, the 40-yard dash may be the most useless of them. Yes, it even beats out assigning star rankings to 16- and 17-year-olds, though not by much.

For now, let’s look past the rest of the inane Draft intricacies, such as former Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones feeling pressured to increase his vertical jump by four inches. (He did, jumping to 24.5 inches in Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday.) This scribe does not have an excess of time to spend discussing Jones’s outlandish wingspan if this piece is to post by its intended, though unnecessary, 4 p.m. ET deadline.

The 40-yard dash … No football play begins from a sprinter’s stance, yet it may be the factor most crucial to a low 40 time. Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer posted a time of 4.83 seconds in the NFL Combine earlier this month. For context’s sake, Kizer ran .07 seconds slower than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did as a draft prospect in the 2004 combine.

Roethlisberger has had himself an excellent career, and his ability to shrug off 300-pound defensive linemen is a testament to his athleticism. Put Kizer and Roethlisberger in the open field together, though, and Kizer would presumably have outrun Roethlisberger at any point of the two-time Super Bowl champion’s career. In Indianapolis, however, Roethlisberger did a better job of getting his hips through his first couple strides of the heralded 40-yard dash.

Here, watch Kizer train for the 40, the most-hyped measurement of his combine.

“The ultimate goal is to have yourself in the best position to have your body weight back in those legs so you can create enough torque to get out as quickly as possible,” Kizer said. “A guy who is as long as I am, with long limbs that I have, I’ve got to make sure that my weight distribution is in the best position for me to get out and catch up to some of those quicker guys who are a little lower to the ground.”

What part of that sounds applicable to football? The 40 turns Kizer’s size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) into a negative. He worries about the angle of his knees. After his throwing session at the Thursday Pro Day, Kizer summed up the draft evaluation process even more succinctly.

“This process is very different in the sense that the way you look productive in the combine and in a pro day is very different from what productivity actually looks like out on the field.”

Well put.

More pertinent to the actual game of football, Kizer’s completion percentage in the staged workout could have been higher.

Then again, he was throwing to the likes of former Irish receivers Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle and former running back Jonas Gray. Reportedly, the only contact Gray and Kizer had before the session was Kizer emailing the former New England Patriot the planned series of routes.

The NFL Draft, where Gmail becomes a necessity.

Let’s do away with the 40. If we insist on keeping it, let’s do it twice, once from a standing start and once from a running start. Those would simulate actual football movements: A receiver getting off the line, and a ballcarrier breaking away and trying to outrun the defense.

Asking DeShone Kizer to mimic Usain Bolt is an exercise in futility, idiocy, absurdity.

Cue end of rant.

Why cite the Roethlisberger time? Many, including Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, have readily compared Kizer to Roethlisberger this spring.

The most notable line of that scouting report (scroll down to No. 32) may be its final one, echoing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s sentiments from earlier this week.

“The mystery is whether he can regain his assertiveness,” Burke writes. “If so, he could turn out to be the 2017 class’s best QB. The team that drafts him will be taking a leap of faith.”

A leap. Not a dash.

For more Notre Dame Pro Day results, click here.

And with that, this just may make the 4 p.m. posting. You know what to do.

 

Tranquill continues work with safeties … for now

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Drue Tranquill will see time at the oft-spoken of rover position, just not yet. For now, Notre Dame needs the senior at safety to provide leadership and communication while the rest of his position group gets up to speed.

“We really have to figure out what the coordination is going to be at the safety position,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “How much does Drue play down at rover? How much does he play back [at safety]?”

Only sophomore Devin Studstill returns any starts to the safety position aside from Tranquill’s career total of 18. Studstill started nine games last season.

That void has kept Tranquill working mostly with the defensive backs in the spring’s first few practices, rather than joining the likes of junior Asmar Bilal in the rover grouping.

“We didn’t want to pull our most veteran player out of the back end of our defense with Drue,” Kelly said. “I think it was more about the hesitancy of losing a great communicator in the back end than about the teaching.”

The time will come, however, for Tranquill to move up. Juniors Nick Coleman and Ashton White have moved to safety from the corner position. With more reps, they will not need to rely on Tranquill’s guidance as much. The same goes for, at least in theory, sophomore Jalen Elliott.

“It’s not really a heavy load of teaching for those guys,” Kelly said. “They’re picking it up quite well. We really want to get a chance to see a lot of guys back there.”

Kelly seemed particularly bullish on Coleman’s prospects at the position, provided he embrace the needed physicality. At 6-foot, 187 pounds, Coleman’s build may have been more suited on the outside, but Notre Dame’s plethora of promising cornerbacks provided an impetus to test Coleman at safety.

“The big thing will be Nick’s continuous development in tackling,” Kelly said. “You have to tackle back there. His ball skills are really good. We’ve seen that he’s able to play the ball. He has athleticism.

“We just want to continue to build on his tackling skills. If we go through the spring and say, ‘Well, he’s tackling really well,’ we’ll feel pretty good about the move.”

At that point, Tranquill will likely join Bilal at the hybrid position, which is something of a trademark to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Tranquill will be able to do what he does best: Pursue the ball.

“We all know what his strengths are,” Kelly said. “He’s a solid tackler. I don’t think there’s any safety in college football that wants to get matched up one-on-one with a skilled slot receiver. This would minimize that, when you play him close to the ball as a rover.

“And I think he’s pretty quick off the edge. I think we put him in a really good position in maximizing his skill set.”

Until then, Bilal will continue to be the frontrunner at rover, especially with the first four Irish opponents of 2017 presenting run-heavy offenses.

KELLY ON NICK WATKINS
Kelly was also asked about senior cornerback Nick Watkins, his fit into Elko’s defense and his return from injury.

“He’s very coachable, wants to learn, he’s pretty long,” Kelly said. “What I think Mike [Elko] does really well—and this is what I liked about my interactions with him—is, we all have strengths and weaknesses. He has a great eye of saying let’s take Nick’s strengths and let’s put him in a position where we can really utilize his strengths and put him in a position where maybe we’re not a right and left corner team, maybe we’re a short field/wide field team. Let’s apply him in that fashion.

“Nick’s long. He’s a little bit of a physical player. Let’s go to those strengths. He’s shown some of those attributes early on.”

RELATED READING:
Bilal the first in at ‘versatile’ rover position, others likely to follow
2 Days Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive backfield

Kraemer, Eichenberg compete for RT spot, moving Bars inside, and Bivin to…

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Forty percent of the offensive line is essentially set in stone: fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and senior Quenton Nelson at right guard.

The center position seems to be senior Sam Mustipher’s to lose.

That leaves the two starting spots on the right side of the line for a number of players—both young and experienced—to fight over.

Sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have emerged as the frontrunners for the right tackle spot, moving senior Alex Bars inside to right guard. Bars started all 12 games last season at right tackle.

“Those two [Kraemer and Eichenberg] are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle, and they’re going to battle,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “Today Kraemer was there. Last two practices Eichenberg got a lot of the work. Eichenberg will go back there on Friday. They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Part of the reasoning in giving the two sophomores extended looks this spring is Notre Dame knows what it has in Bars when at right tackle.

“We would prefer to get him in at the guard position, but we know he can play the [tackle] position,” Kelly said.

A starting five of McGlinchey, the three seniors and either sophomore may seem to leave fifth-year lineman Hunter Bivin out in the cold. Not often is a player asked to return for a fifth year only to spend it on the bench. That is even more rare when considering the current Irish scholarship crunch.

Kelly compared Bivin’s role to that of Mark Harrell’s last year. Harrell appeared in all 12 games, starting two, and provided much needed depth and flexibility along the offensive line. Rather than have five backup offensive linemen, position coach Harry Hiestand relied on Harrell to provide support at multiple spots.

“It’s reasonable to assume that Hunter Bivin’s going to be involved in this as well,” Kelly said. “We’ve just asked Hunter to take a seat right now. He’s done that for the team.

“We think Hunter is going to be a Mark Harrell for us. A guy that’s extremely valuable, can play a number of positions. We trust him, but we want to see these two young players [Kraemer and Eichenberg]. Hunter is a guy that can play right or left tackle for us. He’s going to be a valuable player for us as a swing guy.”

On that note, this space will refer to Bivin as a fifth-year lineman, as was done above, rather than as a guard or as a tackle, until further notice. In his case, the broader description may be the most accurate.