Zack Martin

Appreciating the senior class


There’s still football to be played, which makes any goodbye a little premature. But as it’s Senior Day tomorrow, this is as good of a time as any to tip a cap to the graduating class.

There’s been so much great work done to take a look at this class. So consider this just a nice aggregator of material, and a standing ovation for the work that the student-run Observer has done as they once again profiled every member of the senior class.



Do yourself a favor and read every one of these columns (I did). But if you’re running short on time, I’ve linked to each article they wrote, with a favorite factoid from all of them:

Carlo Calabrese: This quote says is all about Calabrese: “Three or four times, we kept [Stanford] out of the end zone, and then the last time, I made the tackle, Calabrese told the Observer. “I know I’ll remember that forever.”

Kevin Carr: Hailing from a long line of family members that served in the Navy, Carr hopes to join after graduation, specializing in nuclear engineering.

Austin Collinsworth: Austin’s following his father’s footsteps both on and off the field. He’s producing five-minute video shorts on life in the locker room with Fighting Irish Digital Media.

Will Cronin: The walk-on quarterback went from stud interhall QB for Alumni to invited walk-on for the Irish for his senior season. Not too shabby.

Nick Fitzpatrick: Younger brother of former kicker DJ, the local product also doubled as Denard Robinson, before winning Scout Team Player of the Year in 2012.

Dan Fox: After celebrating Senior Day with his mother last year with a flying shoulder bump, look for another epic celebration between the veteran linebacker and his mom.

Bruce Heggie: A cult hero if only for his out-of-nowhere recruiting status, Heggie switched back from offensive line to defensive line to help out as injuries mounted.

Andrew Hendrix: The first word of Hendrix’s senior profile is “Allotropes.” Because of course it is.

Bennett Jackson: You might forget, but Jackson averaged 22 yards a kick return during his freshman season, when he was still a wide receiver.

TJ Jones: A great piece of writing here by the Observer’s Mike Monaco. The loss of Jones’ father truly shaped him.

Christian Lombard: A season-ending injury has Lombard already looking to next season, where he’ll likely stay at guard with Steve Elmer first in line at left tackle.

Zack Martin: He’s been captaining football teams since middle school, and will likely continue after his college career is finished.

Arturo Martinez: After battling cancer, Martinez decided to walk-on to the Irish football team after just one season in high school.

Luke Massa: Position changes and ACL tears haven’t slowed Massa down, one of Brian Kelly’s first big scholarship offers.

Kendall Moore: Next Man In might be more than just a mantra. It might be what brings Kendall Moore back for a fifth year.

Louis Nix: Somehow Nix has shrunk since he arrived in South Bend. Literally.

Tyler Plantz: Grew up with a panoramic poster of Notre Dame Stadium in his bedroom.

Tommy Rees: So many words have been dedicated to Rees’ run here in South Bend. Here are a few more definitely worth reading.

Jude Rhodes: The little kicker with dreadlocks grew up in the highlands of Kenya.

Joe Romano: His grandfather, Buddy Romano, was a member of the 1949 national championship team.

Kona Schwenke: He may be one of the more underappreciated players in this class. But he could end up playing on Sundays, too.

Prince Shembo: For a guy that didn’t seem to have a position, he became a key cog on this football team.

Daniel Smith: Talk about the ultimate “glue” guy. A local product who made a career of doing the little things, fulfilling a dream come true by playing for Notre Dame.

Danny Spond: Injuries and early retirement won’t take away from what Spond brought to the program.


Tyler Stockton: Both Brian Kelly and Stockton were rewarded for bringing back the veteran leader this season.

Nick Tausch: While you wouldn’t probably remember it, Tausch’s name is all over the Irish kicking record books.

Justin Utupo: Better late than never for Utupo, who has feasted on opportunities that have opened up because of injuries.


Chris Watt: Seeing the Irish offensive line without Watt and Martin on the left side will be a very weird thing.

Alex Welch: Continued an impressive pipeline from Elder High School to Notre Dame. Don’t be surprised to see Welch back in an Irish uniform next year.

Lo Wood: An Achilles tear robbed Wood of a chance to start. But Wood hasn’t stopped grinding.

Alex Wulfeck: Wake Forest transfer has found his way onto the field as one of the true specialists on the roster.





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.”