Aug 3, 2011, 11:24 AM EDT
Less that two weeks after torching a gifted Miami Hurricanes secondary for two touchdowns and 109 yards, Michael Floyd made a decision that had many praising his maturity: he was returning to Notre Dame for his senior year, turning down the opportunity to be selected early in the NFL Draft.
“I’m returning to Notre Dame for three reasons: to earn my degree, return Notre Dame to the top and improve myself as a player,” Floyd said back in January. “I promised my mom I would graduate from Notre Dame and I am 40 credit hourse shy of that goal. I chose to attend Notre Dame in part because I knew it was a 40-year decision and not a four-year decision.”
The decision was hailed as a good one not just for Irish fans and Floyd, but for college football. That decision, and any goodwill Floyd had earned for it, evaporated a little over two months later, when the wide receiver was arrested by campus police for driving drunk, less than a mile from his apartment.
What followed was rocky purgatory that put Floyd’s fate as both a Notre Dame student and record-breaking football player in jeopardy.
“The last four months have been the most humbling stretch of time in my life,” Floyd said in a statement released today by the university. “I embarrassed myself, my family, the university, my football team and many more people.”
That stretch is officially over, Notre Dame announced this morning. When the Irish open camp this Saturday, they’ll do it with No. 3 back on the roster, as Brian Kelly announced that Michael Floyd has earned his way back onto the Irish football team.
“From the very beginning of this process, Michael knew what was expected for him to be a member of our football program,” Kelly said in a statement. “I told Michael that football needed to become of less importance to him while he worked on personal growth. Over the last four months, Michael impressed those that had close contact with him including professional advisors. Based on my own observations, I am very pleased with the progress Michael has made since March. That is why I am comfortable reinstating him to our football team. Michael knows that he must continue on this positive track. I look forward to witnessing the development he has made based on lessons learned from this situation and how that will lead to better choices in the future.”
That Floyd, Notre Dame’s best player and lifeblood of the offense, is back on the team after a March run in isn’t all that unexpected, especially after he navigated his way through a gauntlet that included Notre Dame’s Residence Life office and the city’s legal system. And while many will look to make a grander statement on Notre Dame’s relaxed disciplinary branch or a football program willing to bend to adapt, Kelly isn’t going to waste his time battling cynics.
“I really can’t,” the head coach said. “Those that are cynics and skeptics about relationships with 18 to 21 year olds and don’t know the work that we do with these young men on a day-to-day basis, I can’t explain to them the number of hours we put in with these young men. They’re going to be out there, and they can have those opinions but I think we take this very serious. We’re talking about somebody we want to make sure gets his degree and is a very productive member of our society.”
Both Kelly and Floyd will be made available to reporters this afternoon, but the football program finally let the general public in on what’s been going on the past four months, where Floyd’s absence hung like the lone cloud over a team trending in a very positive direction. The Irish’s leading receiver wasn’t just unavailable to media requests or absent from team practices and the televised Blue-Gold game, he didn’t exist on the team’s roster, in their media releases or on the team’s website. Left to work and train on his own, Floyd relied on a work-ethic widely praised by fellow players and coaches alike.
“I went through the motions, the same as if I was out there playing,” Floyd said. “I didn’t work out with the team, but as soon as the team was done, I was in there. Working out. If we had practice, I was in Loftus or wherever I could be running routes. Kind of just going through the paper of running routes, making sure I could keep up with my stamina and my endurance bcause it’s rough out there.”
With the indefinite nature of Floyd’s suspension and his uncertain return to college football, rumors swirled through the media that Floyd may entertain playing in the CFL, or potentially apply for the NFL’s supplemental draft. After a four month silence, Floyd dispelled the rumors of pondering a jump from Notre Dame to professional football.
“When I said I was coming back to school I said I was coming back to have this season be a wonderful season and also get my degree,” Floyd said. “There was no chance in my mind that I was going to go to the NFL Supplemental draft.”
Floyd’s path is now clear to play during the Irish’s opening game against South Florida, now just a month away. While he’s officially been stripped of his captaincy (he and Harrison Smith were the team’s only captains), he’ll still be looked upon for leadership by the coaching staff.
“I think Michael Floyd has always been on the field, the ‘A’ student. I don’t think there’s anybody on our football team that would question his dedication to football,” Kelly said. “What we question is whether he was making the right decisions off the field. I think our players have observed the things that he’s done, he’s gotten a chance to integrate back with our team over the summer and I think he’s working toward building that respect back with his teammates.”
That process has already started this summer, as Floyd was cleared to participate in unofficial workouts with his teammates.
“It feels great, just knowing that things are going in a positive way right now,” Floyd said of the summer work. “I’m with my teammates, having fun, throwing the ball around, and talking to coaches, it’s all going real well.”
There’s no denying that Floyd’s reinstatement will put an even bigger target on his back. For a player that’s spent just about every day he’s had on the football field in the spotlight, the Irish’s star receiver is a mild-mannered, quiet, and introverted 21-year-old. To Floyd’s credit, he knows the process will be ongoing.
“I know I made a mistake. I’m moving forward from it,” Floyd said. “I’m making sure that I keep the values that still stay in me. Be acccountable to the team. Be responsible and be a leader. And maintain this positive attitude I have.”
With Floyd back with the team as camp opens, the Irish can focus on bigger issues, like what quarterback they plan to have throwing passes to their star receiver. As for any lingering effects from the four-month layoff or tempered expectations for the senior receiver who had a junior season some would call disappointing, Brian Kelly said all he needed to in one sentence.
“I just think the sky’s the limit for Michael Floyd.”