Alex Welch

Big personnel shakeup after first day in pads

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Jordan Prestwood leaving the football team yesterday was hardly the only big piece of personnel news. As the Irish donned pads for the first time in front of local media, Brian Kelly’s troops had a few big roster shakeups, two that could change the positional plans for the Irish.

Most notable was a serious knee injury to junior tight end Alex Welch, who was competing with sophomores Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas for the No. 2 job behind All-American Tyler Eifert. Welch was injured near the end of practice and carried off the field. As I hinted at yesterday on Twitter, multiple sources told me it was a torn ACL, essentially ending his season before it starts. (IrishIllustrated.com has also confirmed the ACL tear.)

The loss of Welch doesn’t limit what the Irish offense can do, but it sure takes away some of the versatility it could have had. With Welch, Koyack and Niklas, the Irish had three capable in-line tight ends, allowing Eifert to be split wide, in the slot, or just about anywhere Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin want to put him. While senior Jake Golic will move into the mix with Welch gone, losing the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder from Cincinnati is a blow to a position of great depth.

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One position that doesn’t have great depth is the ‘dog’ outside linebacker. Playing on the wide side of the field, the two defenders with the most experience there last season are no longer at the position, with Prince Shembo competing with Ishaq Williams for Darius Fleming’s old job and Troy Niklas now playing tight end. That leaves junior linebacker Danny Spond and sophomore Ben Councell battling for the position, a competition that’s been thrown in flux after Kelly reported that Spond suffered a concussion in practice yesterday.

Kelly only had the preliminary report on Spond, making it a guessing game for fans to wonder if the junior linebacker is out for days or weeks. Some have referenced a serious concussion Spond suffered during his senior season of high school, but while relevant, it’s not really an indicator of how long or serious this injury  could be.

While Spond heals, the majority of the reps will be taken by Councell, ready to take the field after sitting out his freshman season. Long thought of as the prototype field-side linebacker on the roster, the early returns on his play seem incredibly positive, with both the head coach and a reporter agreeing that the 6-foot-5, 240-pound North Carolina native has been a disruptive force early on.

“He’s really athletic,” Kelly said. “He can play out over the No. 2 and re-route him but he can also sit down on the tight end. That versatility is important and he’s long. He plays pretty big out there. He’s a guy that arrives at the ball with the kind of tenacity that you want. Just every day is a new experience for him, learning. But he’s what it should look like out there.”

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Lastly, just days after announcing Brad Carrico was hanging up the pads for good because of a foot injury, it appears running back Cam Roberson is doing the same thing. The junior running back suffered a major knee injury two springs ago and just hasn’t been able to fully recover.

“Cam Roberson physically was not able to compete at the level that he felt was necessary to play here at Notre Dame so we’re going to pursue a medical hardship for him,” Kelly said.

The loss likely won’t be felt on the depth chart, but it’s sad news for a guy that came into Notre Dame with high hopes. It’s a stark reminder for both players and recruits that picking a school isn’t just about picking a football program. It’s a bit of a cliche, but there’s some truth to the Notre Dame maxim that choosing a college isn’t a four-year decision but rather a forty year one. With medical hardship scholarships, both Carrico and Roberson will be able to complete their educations without counting against the Irish’s 85-man scholarship limit.

Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

echoes
@NDFootball Twitter
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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)
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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

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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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)
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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

Senior
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.