Russell’s potential fifth-year return requires an NCAA waiver


Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell has not announced his intentions for 2016. But if Russell wishes to return for a fifth-year in South Bend, he’ll require a waiver from the NCAA to do it.

Russell’s entanglement in the Frozen Five academic fiasco made his return to Notre Dame an accomplishment, with Russell on track to earn his diploma after serving a two semester academic suspension last year. But if the senior cornerback wants to play out his four seasons of competition for the Irish—and perhaps bolster his NFL Draft status in the process—he’ll need to ask the NCAA first.

“He’d have to appeal to get another year through the NCAA,” head coach Brian Kelly explained on Sunday. “We’re going to submit one, but it’ll have to be a wait and see.”

Notre Dame’s fifth-year process is much different than most universities. Each candidate applies for admission into graduate school, with each student-athlete having his undergraduate degree work complete. We’ve seen players like Joe Schmidt, Nick Martin and Matthias Farley return as graduate students. We’ve seen many others—Everett Golson the most high-profile—leave and play out their eligibility elsewhere.

The deadline to declare for the NFL Draft for underclassmen is January 18. Notre Dame expects to hear back from the NCAA on their waiver before that date, so Russell isn’t put into a precarious situation where he’ll need to gamble on his future.

Heading into this season, the prevailing sentiment—with Russell all but saying it from the day he returned to South Bend—was that this was the cornerback’s final season in college football. Projected as an early round pick, Russell may have been Notre Dame’s most dependable defensive back, but he was hardly bullet proof, with opposing quarterbacks completing 34 of 60 throws his way, per CFB Film Room’s analysis. Add in Russell’s recovery from a significant leg injury and losing time to train for the scouting combine in Indianapolis and a return for a fifth season might make good business sense.

Notre Dame’s coaching staff plans on having discussions with all senior and fifth-year candidates in the near future. Neither Kelly nor Russell has discussed the cornerback’s future status, other than to say that the senior will not be healthy enough to play against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.


Zaire back to practice, but won’t play against Ohio State


Malik Zaire‘s recovery from an ankle injury is ahead of schedule. The junior quarterback returned to practice this week and worked in seven-on-seven drills, Brian Kelly revealed on Saturday afternoon.

“Malik is taking some reps and he’s well ahead of schedule,” Kelly said Saturday. “He will not play, but he is in there taking reps and has been phenomenal in terms of the way he has gotten back, moving around and throwing the football.”

Zaire’s return to practice points to a healthy spring for the returning quarterback, a key objective after badly breaking his ankle in just the second game of the season. And while Kelly wasn’t willing to commit Zaire to helping on the scout team as the Irish look to replicate J.T. Barrett’s skill-set, Zaire getting into the mix now allows him to return to a positional depth chart that may find this season’s opening day starter chasing his understudy.

The season started brightly for Zaire. He completed 19 of 22 throws for 313 yards and three touchdowns against Texas. While he struggled passing in his first road start against Virginia—completing less than 50 percent of his throws—he was averaging nearly nine yards a carry when his season ended.

In his place, Kizer won nine football games, pulling out the victory against the Cavaliers with a late-game touchdown pass to Will Fuller. He rallied the Irish three more times in the fourth quarter, finishing the regular season with 19 touchdown passes against nine interceptions while completing 63.4 percent of his throws and rushing for nine scores.

Kelly expects to have a formidable depth chart this spring, with Brandon Wimbush also getting time to develop during bowl preparations. Kelly talked about the meaningful reps Wimbush will receive this week as being helpful to his development, meaning both quarterbacks who saw limited on-field action are ahead of the game heading into 2016.




Fuller wins MVP, Stanley and Smith highlight award winners


Junior Will Fuller was named Notre Dame’s Most Valuable Player on Friday night, the headliner of the 95th Fighting Irish awards show, the ECHOES ’15. Fuller is the team leader in receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns and yards from scrimmage. His 13 touchdown catches rank sixth in the country. He’s already been named a second team All-American by Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and USA Today.

Junior linebacker Jaylon Smith was named the defensive player of the year while left tackle Ronnie Stanley was named the offensive player of the year. Smith’s 113 tackles led the Irish, a season where he’s already collected the Butkus Award and multiple first-team All-American kudos. Stanley was named to CBS Sports and the Walter Camp All-American first-teams as well.

The complete list of award winners is as follows:

Award Winners
Scout Team Player of the Year: Offense — Tristen Hoge
Scout Team Player of the Year: Defense — Asmar Bilal
Newcomer of the Year: Offense — DeShone Kizer
Newcomer of the Year: Defense — Jerry Tillery
Special Teams Player of the Year — Matthias Farley
Offensive Lineman of the Year — Nick Martin
Irish Around the Bend — Joe Schmidt
Moose Krause Lineman of the Year — Sheldon Day
Father Lange Iron Cross — Romeo Okwara
Pietrosante Award — Chris Brown
Rockne Student-Athlete — Jarrett Grace
Offensive Player of the Year — Ronnie Stanley
Defensive Player of the Year — Jaylon Smith
Next Man In — C.J. Prosise
Most Valuable Player — Will Fuller

The Awards were hosted by the talented husband and wife duo of Dan Hicks, NBC’s play-by-play voice for the Irish and ESPN’s Hannah Storm, a Notre Dame alum. The awards show will air next week on NBCSN, but a few of these tweets will get you up to speed on the fun of the event.

Notre Dame Football: 2015 awards banquet predictions


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.

Linebacker Daelin Hayes commits to Notre Dame


Notre Dame landed a commitment from blue-chip prospect Daelin Hayes on Thursday, with the linebacker picking the Irish over Ohio State and Michigan State. The Michigan native is an early-enrollee candidate who at one point was committed to USC before stepping away from that decision this fall. Hayes is rated as the No. 21 player in the country by

At 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, Hayes has readymade size that could project to an edge rush position as well as linebacker. His offer list includes schools like Alabama and LSU, though he officially visited Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State before settling on the Irish.

Hayes made his commitment “in style,” paying homage to the Dark Knight in a Bleacher Report video similar to the one made by Iman Marshall and other top-flight recruits.

Outside of that flash, Hayes decision came after a long look at Notre Dame. The 5-star recruit wants to make the same kind of impact that Jaylon Smith has made in his three seasons in South Bend. Hayes credits Smith for the advice that led to him making this commitment.

While Hayes hopes to be the same type of player that Smith is, his game is a different. He’ll likely find multiple ways to be impactful, just like Smith—if he can stay healthy. Shoulder injuries have limited his time on the field, and Hayes has bounced around high schools as well, transferring to St. Bonaventure in California before returning home to the Detroit area, finishing his high school career at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor.

Brian Kelly has already taken to Twitter for his customary commitment tweet. A slew of interviews with Hayes are popping up around the web, where Hayes discusses his decision to come to Notre Dame, including an in-depth video interview with Irish 247.

Hayes makes 19 commitments in Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class. He’s set to be an early-enrollee, beginning his time in South Bend after the semester break.

Here’s a collection of highlights showing Hayes at work on the football field.