McDaniel wins player of the year award in Texas 5A football


The contrarian among Notre Dame fans would look at the Irish’s recruiting class and see a running back haul that’s a bit thin, especially after the high profile defection of Justice Hayes to Michigan and the loss of Savon Huggins to home state Rutgers.

But the Irish did reel in one running back, Coppell Texas’ Cam McDaniel, who committed on the spot to an Irish offer at the end of November. And while skeptics look at the undersized (and white) running back with limited big program offers, they should also take note that McDaniel dominated competition at the highest level of Texas high school football, no small feat.

As Brian Town of writes, while the recruiting services might not have McDaniel ranked among the best players in his state, he accepted the Ford Motor Company’s “Built Ford Tough Player of the Year” award for class 5A last night in Cowboys Stadium.

Here’s more from Town on the qualifications of the award:

To be eligible for this award a player had to be nominated once throughout the 10-week season as the “Ford Built Tough Player of the Week.” Then at the end of the season, Ford and its advisory board, would choose one player from each of the classes to be Player of the Year. The criteria for judging included:

1. The performance on the field, including significant stats from that weeks game.

2. How they contributed to their team success through their individual leadership abilities.

3. Their success off the field, including academics and community citizenship.

McDaniel was nominated in week nine of the 2010 season for his performance against Keller, in which Coppel won 56 – 16.

He carried the ball 20 times for 265 yards and four touchdowns (33, 79, 20 and 59 yards). He also returned a punt 80 yards for another touchdown, giving him five in the game.

“I was a little bit surprised,” said McDaniel. “It was just an honor to be there with all those guys, 55 or so tremendous athletes, I mean it was fun.

“I’m giving all the praise and glory to God on this, he’s just good all the time. It’s just a tremendous honor to be named one of the top players in the state.”

On Signing Day, running backs coach Tim Hinton mentioned he saw a lot of Danny Woodhead in his new running back. Woodhead was passed over by the home state Nebraska Cornhuskers and instead went on to a record-setting career at Chardon State, where he rushed for 1,840 yards as a freshman and left the D-II ranks as a two-time national player of the year before breaking out this year with the New England Patriots.

Obviously, playing high school football at the highest level in Texas is a different story than playing for North Platte High in Nebraska, and Woodhead’s exploits on the field — as well as his elite speed in high school — probably separate him from McDaniel. That said, if the Irish are looking for a skill player to make an impact this season, it could come from a guy like McDaniel, who was one of the best punt returners in Texas and could immediately bolster a punt return game that ranked 101st in the nation.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”