Sheldon Day, John Fadule
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Notre Dame Football: 2015 awards banquet predictions

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Notre Dame’s football family will unite on Friday night and celebrate the 2015 season with their annual ECHOES Awards, the 95th Notre Dame football awards banquet. With a slew of recruits in South Bend on an unseasonably warm weekend, it’s a big couple of days on campus as the Irish take a brief break in their preparations for Ohio State and look back on the year that was.

Last year, Joe Schmidt was voted team MVP by his teammates, the headliner among the 15 awards given. This year, we’ll take an opportunity to make our predictions for the awards given out—going out on the rare ledge.

Below are my predictions for the annual ECHOES.

 

Scout Team Player of the Year: Offense Rob Regan

Notre Dame’s SWAG team quarterback has already been heralded plenty this season for his work prepping the Irish for both Georgia Tech and Navy. But the true freshman deserves to take home some hardware Friday night after replicating Justin Thomas and Keenan Reynolds all season.

 

Scout Team Player of the Year: Defense Connor Cavalaris

This one is a bit of a hunch, but Cavalaris fits the mold of a guy that deserves some kudos for his work over four seasons. The fifth-year cornerback has played in 30 games in his Notre Dame career, making two tackles against Alabama in the 2012 BCS title game. He’s chipped in two tackles this year but likely carries the load Monday through Friday on the practice field.

 

Newcomer of the Year: Offense — Josh Adams

The record-setting freshman averages 7.3 yards per carry and is second on the team with 757 rushing yards. He’s scored six touchdowns and provided clutch depth behind C.J. Prosise after Notre Dame got a combined three carries out of Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant combined.

 

Newcomer of the Year: Defense — Jerry Tillery

This one seems like a no-brainer to me as well. Tillery went from offensive line prospect to starting defensive tackle, trading starts with Daniel Cage as the Irish defense did battle without Jarron Jones. Tillery’s statistical impact may have been limited to 12 tackles and two TFLs, but he played huge in the trenches as a true freshman.

 

Special Teams Player of the Year — Justin Yoon

This was a toss-up between Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome, but I went with Yoon just because of his ability to step onto the field as a true freshman and deliver a consistent season. Yoon gutted his way through an early-season slump and managed to make 15 of his 17 field goal attempts and 46 of his 48 extra point attempts.

 

Offensive Lineman of the Year — Ronnie Stanley

Stanley looks poised to win this award for the second time in as many seasons. Notre Dame has been spoiled by the play of their left tackles the past six seasons with Stanley filling in amazingly well for Zack Martin.

 

Irish Around the Bend — Matthias Farley

A complete guess on my part, but I just kind of assumed that one of the many hats that Farley wears is that of an active participant in the community. I’m preparing to be wrong here, but this is kind of like those Oscar pools where you’re guessing on the animated shorts. Plus the fifth-year captain just deserves an award for his awesome career and this fits with the many hats that Farley wears.

 

Moose Krause Lineman of the Year — Sheldon Day

Notre Dame’s best defensive lineman was clearly Day, with the senior leading Notre Dame in TFLs and elevating the play of all those around him. I think it’s going to be a big day for the senior captain.

 

Father Lange Iron Cross — Nick Martin

Another hunch, but this feels like a great time to award one of Notre Dame’s toughest guys and a two-time captain. Martin worked his way through another season that presented a nagging ankle injury that could have derailed him. He didn’t let it and played great football at center all season, a position with no established depth behind him. Martin will be missed.

 

Pietrosante Award — Joe Schmidt

I could easily see this going to fellow linebacker Jarrett Grace, but I’ve got him slotted for some different hardware. Schmidt’s senior season wasn’t the MVP campaign that he had in 2014, but he was still at the center of the action, leading the defense and serving as the central nerve center. His physical limitations were often exposed, but he was Notre Dame’s best middle linebacker and a player too valuable to take off the field.

 

Rockne Student-Athlete — Jarrett Grace

Corey Robinson won this last year, otherwise I’d have put him back in this slot. But Grace deserves some type of kudos after an impressive senior season, one that could see him play a lot of football in the Fiesta Bowl, against a team many in his neighborhood grew up cheering for, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

 

Tire Rack Play of the Year — DeShone Kizer to Will Fuller at Virginia

No play meant more to the Irish season that Kizer’s late-game touchdown pass to Fuller. Notre Dame escaped with a win over the Cavaliers, surviving the injury to Malik Zaire. Fuller showed his unbelievable playmaking ability and Kizer displayed the clutch skill-set he utilized so often this year.

 

Offensive Player of the Year — Will Fuller

Notre Dame’s All-American receiver makes too much sense here. One of the most dangerous players in college football, Fuller disappeared a few times this season but still managed to build on his breakout 2014 season, topping his yardage totals even with 20 less catches.

 

Defensive Player of the Year — Jaylon Smith

Another easy selection as Smith led Notre Dame in tackles and served as a dominant force every week. The junior put together back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons for the first time since Manti Te’o.

 

Next Man In Award — DeShone Kizer

Easiest selection of the show (which means I’ll end up being wrong), as Kizer exemplified what Brian Kelly’s mantra is all about, picking up the offense after Malik Zaire went down and putting together an amazing first season.

 

Most Valuable Player — Sheldon Day

While Smith did the most on the stat sheet, the heart of the defense was Sheldon Day, who served as Notre Dame’s only true weapon in the trenches. The two-time captain made the decision to come back to South Bend for his senior season and put together an incredible year, already named to a first-team All-American team. Day led by example, he lead at practice and he mentored the young defensive lineman who’ll try to fill his shoes.

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.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore
Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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Receiver Corey Holmes is transferring from Notre Dame. The junior, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, will look for a new program after earning his degree this summer, Tom Loy of Irish247 reports.

Holmes told Irish247:

“It’s just the best decision for me. I’m graduating this summer and I’m just going to find the best fit for me to finish things up.”

Even after a strong spring, Holmes saw little action this season, though he played extensively against USC in the season finale. He had four catches against the Trojans, a large part of his 11 on the year, also his career total.

That Holmes wasn’t able to find a consistent spot in the rotation is likely a big reason why he’s looking for a new opportunity. After opening eyes after posting a 4.42 40-yard dash during spring drills, the Irish coaching staff looked for a way to get Holmes onto the field. But after losing reps at the X receiver on the outside, Holmes bounced inside and out, never finding a regular spot in the rotation, playing behind Torii Hunter Jr. and Kevin Stepherson on the outside and CJ Sanders and Chris Finke in the slot.

Holmes has two seasons of eligibility remaining, redshirting his sophomore season. Because he’ll earn his degree this summer, he’ll be able to play immediately next year. Irish 247 reports that Holmes is looking at Miami, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and North Carolina, though he’ll have a semester to find other fits.