Nov 22, 2012, 2:46 PM EDT
Thanksgiving Day. A time for the Macy’s parade, a day of football, too much turkey, and corny columns from writers everywhere. But in the midst of a historic season, some stories absolutely have to be written, even with family, football, and food waiting.
As the Irish gather at their coaches’ homes for holiday meals before taking off for Los Angeles tomorrow, it’s amazing to look back on the year that got us here, and the team we’ve all spent the last twelve weeks obsessing over.
So here’s why I’m thankful.
I’m thankful that Notre Dame has proven that a team can compete for a national championship and graduate nearly all of its players. For the first time ever, the same school with the highest football player graduation rate is No. 1 in the BCS rankings. And while it’s no certainty that the Irish will win their next two football games, hopefully this shatters any illusions that winning on the field and graduating almost all your players has to be mutually exclusive.
If there’s a story that can’t be overblown more, this is certainly it. As it had been envisioned by Father Theodore Hesburgh years ago, Notre Dame always wanted to fulfill two missions: deliver a quality academic experience and compete at an elite level in football. After years of watching the SEC teams dominate the trophy case yet let a large portion of their student-athletes leave school without a degree, having Notre Dame, a flagship program in college football, remind schools it is possible to achieve greatness on the field and in the classroom is the most important lesson of any that’ll come out of college football season this year.
I’m thankful for Brian Kelly. After watching four head coaches get chewed up and spit out by the pressure cooker that is Notre Dame, Kelly had the moxie to tune out the noise and follow his plan. Along with athletic director Jack Swarbrick, the Irish head coach tore the football team down to its studs, a gut job of a program that had been building on top of a faulty foundation for over 15 years.
There were dark times for this football team. Think back to the panic that ensued when Aaron Lynch left the football program against his family’s wishes and Louis Nix looked close to going home, too. And while even the most ardent believers saw this team’s chances go down the drain when the Irish lost what was believed to be their most important defender on the roster, Kelly was steadfast in his belief that the defensive would be just fine.
Of course, it turned out to be more than just fine, perhaps the most dominant unit the Irish have trotted out in at least a quarter century. And Kelly’s belief in himself — his double-down on what made him a great head coach to begin with — transformed this team in an offseason where questions at quarterback, the graduation of the team’s best offensive and defensive player, and the toughest preseason schedule in the country all had even the most faithful fans clutching rosary beads.
I’m thankful for a team filled with personalities. Iconic leaders like Manti Te’o, a Hawaiian warrior that isn’t afraid to tell his teammates that he loves them, words that don’t always flow from the mouths of 21-year-olds. Veterans like Kapron Lewis-Moore, a defensive cog that may have been recruited by the previous regime, but bought into Kelly’s program after many friends and teammates felt like leftovers. For Louis Nix, a gentle soul with a wonderful sense of humor, who picked Notre Dame without knowing who his head coach would be, and has turned into one of the finest nose tackles in the country. For Tyler Eifert, Braxston Cave, and Zack Martin, three Indiana boys who may not be the most quotable, but anchor an old-school, Midwestern toughness that this team embodies.
For Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, two best friends pushing each other to be great while fighting for carries in the backfield. For Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell, who have played cornerback like time-tested veterans, not converted offensive prospects. For Everett Golson and Tommy Rees, two quarterbacks that have co-existed and pushed each other, working towards a common goal instead of fanning the flames of a potential quarterback controversy.
From Trick Shot Monday to the unmitigated joy that comes with singing the fight song after a victory, the small peeks behind the scenes of this team show a group that’s bonded into one, a trait that’s common among championship contenders. At a school where you’re never as good as its touted or as bad as its trashed, this team has kept its head down, marched to the drum of its leaders, and focused on the task at hand for eleven important Saturdays.
No school is perfect. And while many people bristle at the thought of Notre Dame’s singularity, there’s no reason to argue about the unique place Notre Dame holds in the world of college sports. It has withstood the recent years of punching bag status, picked itself up from the mat after timeless embarrassing losses on the game’s biggest stage, and continued to plow ahead even when its been far more fashionable to bash than revere. And now, one game from the sport’s pinnacle, a season nobody saw coming is close to being frozen in immortality.
The facts are nearly indisputable. When Notre Dame is back, the entire college football world thrives. Whether it’s top television ratings, countless hours of debate, or just echoes awakened, after almost four seasons of writing daily about a football team that felt so far from the top of the mountain, I’m thankful that I get paid to cover this football team, in truth, a group I’d probably be obsessing about anyway. Every season is a grind for writers, and after three grueling years, this one has been a breeze, and a journey I hope we all enjoyed taking together.
I’m thankful that Notre Dame’s most heralded rival stands in the way of its date with destiny. You wouldn’t want it any other way, and the entire college football world will be watching.
And I’m thankful after nearly twenty years, that the final Saturday of November finally means something.
Jun 16, 2013, 12:41 PM EDT
With the freshman class on campus and the football team starting voluntary workouts and summer school, the team is now in the hands of strength coach Paul Longo and medical trainer Rob Hunt. That’s good news for an important recruiting class that will likely have a few early contributors come September. One athlete who doesn’t…
Jun 13, 2013, 8:17 PM EDT
Caught up in the commotion of DeShone Kizer’s commitment to the Irish was the news of how Kizer actually committed to Notre Dame. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound quarterback called to deliver the good news to Brian Kelly and the head coach wasn’t in South Bend, but actually in New England spending some time with Bill Belicheck…
Jun 12, 2013, 8:00 PM EDT
For those worried about the Irish defensive line after the surprising loss of Eddie Vanderdoes, it’s probably worth taking a look at who’s returning along the Irish front. Just about everybody. While the Irish lose senior captain Kapron Lewis-Moore to graduation, they return five of their top six players up front, including All-American caliber talent…
Jun 12, 2013, 11:52 AM EDT
After a lot of grumbling by Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson, it appears that Notre Dame and Arizona State’s game in 2014 will go on after all. The Sun Devil’s athletic director took to the internet yesterday to announce that the Irish’s date in Tempe that looked to be in jeopardy is back on…
Jun 11, 2013, 9:00 PM EDT
Notre Dame received the commitment of Toledo quarterback DeShone Kizer Tuesday. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound quarterback had offers from Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Penn State, and Tennessee among others. “I am privileged to say that I will be continuing my Fighting Irish tradition by playing football at the University of Notre Dame!” Kizer Tweeted this afternoon. Kizer’s…
Jun 10, 2013, 5:41 PM EDT
We’re a week away from freshman reporting to summer school — finalizing the assembly of the 2013 Fighting Irish football team on campus and beginning offseason workouts. Across the country, guys like Greg Bryant and Jaylon Smith say goodbye to home and high school and prepare to go from All-Everything recruits to freshmen football players,…
Jun 7, 2013, 7:01 PM EDT
As someone that had the opportunity to participate in this coaching staff’s very first Fantasy Camp, I can tell you that it’s an incredible experience. The Notre Dame staff roles out the red carpet for both campers and returning alums, making the short week one of the best experiences you could ever hope for if…
Jun 6, 2013, 1:40 AM EDT
Editors Note: While there’s no doubt that Rees will be the starting quarterback against Temple, the headline of this story has been tweaked to be a little less definitive, as talking at a banquet hardly construes an official announcement. UPDATE: It appears that Kelly did more than hint at Rees being the frontrunner for the…
Jun 5, 2013, 6:39 PM EDT
In one of the great examples of June being the Sahara for college football fans, Notre Dame recruit Elijah Hood, one of the best running backs in the country, got caught up in social media circus yesterday, courtesy of a Vine video he made. Hood, one of the most active social media users in the…
Jun 4, 2013, 5:11 PM EDT
Eddie Vanderdoes won’t be attending Notre Dame. Both Brian Kelly and the talented defensive lineman agree on that. How the situation ever got to this point, well that’s a story most people are still trying to figure out. Today, after a few weeks of murky details slowly coming to the surface, Vanderdoes, Notre Dame and…
Jun 3, 2013, 1:52 PM EDT
Summer break is over for the Irish football team. Returning members of the football team came back to South Bend yesterday to begin preparation for the 2013 season. While all workouts are technically voluntary, every player (freshmen will show up in two weeks) is expected to begin work with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo…
May 31, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
Everett Golson intends to return to Notre Dame after his suspension. That’s the good news. But for Brian Kelly and his coaching staff, there’s no planning for good intentions, and right now the quarterback depth chart looks vastly different without Golson at the top of it. The once robust quarterback group had a very tough…
May 28, 2013, 4:13 PM EDT
Since the revelation of Everett Golson‘s suspension from Notre Dame, not much had been clear about the future of the Irish’s starting quarterback. But after listening to head coach Brian Kelly, one thing now is: The door is wide open for Golson to return in the spring. Kelly spoke briefly with the media Tuesday afternoon,…
May 27, 2013, 5:34 PM EDT
In the span of one holiday weekend, the trajectory of Notre Dame’s football program has been irrevocably changed. That’s not hyperbole. Coming off a twelve-win season and finally solving a quarterback conundrum that took three seasons to sort, Brian Kelly turned down an opportunity to jump to the NFL, presumably because he saw the bright…
May 26, 2013, 9:22 PM EDT
A day after news broke that Everett Golson was no longer enrolled at Notre Dame, the quarterback confirmed and clarified the circumstances surrounding his shocking departure. With the university bound to silence due to privacy laws, Golson himself acknowledged an academic situation that let to a suspension for the fall semester, ending his football season…
May 26, 2013, 12:40 AM EDT
Starting quarterback Everett Golson is no longer enrolled at Notre Dame. The bombshell was confirmed last Saturday night by university spokesman Dennis Brown to multiple outlets, with local NBC affiliate WNDU the first to report the news. Two sources tells Inside the Irish that an academic violation is the root of the problem, and may…
May 24, 2013, 6:59 PM EDT
With the unofficial kickoff to summer upon us, we’re inside 100 days until football is back. That may seem like quite a long time, but we’ve got plenty of ground to cover in the next few months as we get a better look at what the 2013 Fighting Irish will be. Before everybody disappears for…
May 23, 2013, 4:27 PM EDT
Jake Golic‘s football career isn’t over. The reserve tight end will spend his final season of eligibility at Cincinnati, exercising his ability to transfer and play immediately after graduating from Notre Dame last week with a degree in graphic design. Golic appeared in just five games during his four seasons in South Bend, battling injuries…
May 22, 2013, 3:14 PM EDT
With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood gone from the Irish backfield, the Notre Dame running game is missing its two leading men from 2012. Yet there isn’t a huge worry about what comes next. Even with Riddick’s surprising, hard charging senior season and Wood’s three seasons in (and around) the starting lineup, there’s every belief…
May 21, 2013, 11:01 AM EDT
For the past few days, rumors have been swirling about high-profile prospect Eddie Vanderdoes. The blue-chip defensive lineman, who made the dramatic decision to sign with Notre Dame on Signing Day, is reportedly having some second thoughts on that commitment. What that entails – or if it’s actually true – is anyone’s guess. Vanderdoes himself…
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