Swarbrick Playoff

Independence Day should have special meaning for Irish fans


Nebraska. Colorado. Texas A&M. Missouri. Pitt. Syracuse. West Virginia. Proud athletic programs that uprooted themselves, chasing money, power, and potential preferential treatment on their quest for a better existence as the seas of collegiate athletics got rockier and rockier over the past two years.

As a heatwave covers our country as we celebrate America’s independence, Irish fans should think about the work Notre Dame — led by its athletic director Jack Swarbrick — has done to keep the Irish football program independent.

Continually battling questions of irrelevance and a diminishing role in the importance of college football, Swarbrick has all but silenced any of his critics by his ability to protect Notre Dame’s best interests — independence in football — all while bringing together a disparate group of conference commissioners as college football finally reworked its postseason system for the betterment of the game.

Swarbrick has played the role of Paul Revere and Thomas Jefferson in almost two years of work maintaining the Irish’s foothold in a sport that could look vastly different if he hadn’t stuck by his guns. Playing mediator and agenda setter these past six months, it was Swarbrick’s work with eleven conference commissioners that set up a four-team playoff, ending a Bowl Championship Series that’s lasting legacy might be a reconfiguration of schools that threw tradition in the trash can and went hunting for a bigger piece of the pie.

Before he brokered any playoff agreement, Swarbrick was the first to alert everyone to the rapidly changing tides in college athletics. Two years ago, he was heckled by some Irish fans when he publicly mentioned the “seismic shifts” that could potentially take over college football. Back then, it was the Big Ten and Pac-10 striking first, with Jim Delany making a power-play that eventually netted the conference its twelfth member in Nebraska while the Pac-10 took in Utah and Colorado. All of these moves were made in anticipation of a new BCS television contract, with conferences looking to lock-in two automatic bids for their teams.

With conferences using the media to drive the narrative, Swarbrick saw through the smoke-screens of financial bonanzas courtesy of conference TV networks or multiple BCS autobids. With schools pinballing in and out of longstanding conferences, throwing away rivalries and traditions for a better postseason football position, Swarbrick kept his hand on the pulse, working with key cogs in the machine like Texas athletic director Deloss Dodds to keep the Big 12 in place while the BCS self-destructed.

With a new postseason on the horizon, many publicly questioned what Swarbrick’s role would be in the discussions that produced college football’s first playoff. He explained that for everyone with this interview on UND.com.

“I had the opportunity to draft the plan and sort of be the one who facilitated that dynamic of it, and then had the good fortune to be able to represent the group presenting it to the presidents,” Swarbrick told UND.com.

In other words, Swarbrick was a vital part of the process, steering college football in the direction it badly needed to go, while also protecting the Irish’s independence.

“I was intent throughout on focusing on the interest of the game, rather than the interest of the university. My view was, if we produced a role that was good for college, given our role in college football, it would be good for Notre Dame. I think we did that.

“We’ve got a playoff with four teams. No restrictions, no encumbrances on getting to that, you earn your way in or you don’t.”

Earning your way into the championship on the field. Now that’s an idea as American as Apple Pie.

Swarbrick’s work these past two years likely solidifies Notre Dame’s role as an independent for the foreseeable future, while also enacting change for the better in college football.

Talk about a busy offseason.


Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

@NDFootball Twitter

DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.

He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:

Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend



Notre Dame names 7 captains for 2017 team

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.

McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.

After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.

Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.


Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

Tom Loy, Irish 247

Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.