AP

Report: Mike Sanford headed to Western Kentucky

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Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is expected to be Western Kentucky’s next head coach, Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel reports. The 34-year-old has served as the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for the Irish the past two seasons, coming to South Bend after serving in the same role at Boise State.

Sanford is on pace to be college football’s youngest head coach if he’s hired. A second report, this one from WBKO in Bowling Green, Kentucky, states that Sanford is only a “candidate,” though his connection to the university and program makes for a unique fit.

The move would be a homecoming of sorts, as Sanford coached at WKU under Willie Taggart in 2010, serving as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. It was the first year of Taggart’s rebuild, a 2-10 campaign that ended with Sanford moving on to Palo Alto, to work under David Shaw at Stanford, where he stayed for three seasons.

Sanford’s arrival in South Bend was a big splash, a move that shook up the program just a year after Mike Denbrock was awarded the coordinator job. His work was heralded and he immediately became a hot national candidate after the Irish offense put together huge numbers with backup quarterback DeShone Kizer at the helm.

Sanford is still a risk for a program, even the Hilltoppers, who need to replace Jeff Brohm, now in charge at Purdue. A young assistant who didn’t called plays at Notre Dame, Sanford could now shape an entire program, inheriting a first-place team that won Conference USA with 10-wins and plays Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl on December 20.

No official word has come from either school, though a move is expected by week’s end.

DeShone Kizer declares for NFL Draft

AP
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DeShone Kizer is going pro. Notre Dame’s third-year quarterback, fresh off his team-MVP season, is forgoing his final two years of eligibility and entering the NFL Draft.

Kizer made the announcement via a Bleacher Report video. He’s a candidate to be the first quarterback chosen in the draft, and recently received his grade from the NFL advisory board. A source with knowledge of that grade said Kizer received a first-round evaluation, helping solidify the decision.

It was a move that was expected, but not finalized—at least as recently as Friday night—when Kizer discussed the stay-or-go conundrum. Named one of the team’s seven captains at the annual football banquet, Kizer instead will begin preparations for his professional career, turning the keys to the Irish offense over to Brandon Wimbush.

Head coach Brian Kelly released the following statement.

“DeShone is an extremely gifted quarterback that was faced with a difficult decision,” Kelly said. “He could return as a senior captain at Notre Dame — a place that he loves, and with a program that respects him immensely. Or, he could begin the next chapter in his life and accept the opportunity that likely awaits in the NFL.

“While he chose the latter, the type of leadership DeShone displayed this past season will benefit our program moving forward. He’ll certainly be missed on and off the field, but we’re very happy for him and his family. DeShone will always represent this University with the utmost professionalism and class.”

Kizer released his own statement:

Three years ago, I made a decision to attend the University of Notre Dame. I found a second home and a second family. I made many connections, on and off the field, that changed my life in a positive manner. I’m truly grateful and blessed for everything that I’ve received.

I have an opportunity to continue my football career in the NFL. My family and I have taken the last couple weeks to collect all the necessary information to make a decision that will impact our future. After discussing with my family and coaches, and weighing the pros and cons of remaining at Notre Dame, I believe it’s time to change my path.

I’ve decided to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. I’m ready to accept this challenge.

I want to thank the University of Notre Dame, its fans, my teammates, my coaches and the entire football staff for standing beside me and believing in me throughout my career. I’m a better person today because of this support.

I will forever be Irish at heart.

Even after some struggles this season, Kizer’s departure feels like the logical next step.  But it ignores the amazing ascent he had these past two years. Buried on the depth chart and hitting rock bottom just two springs ago, Kizer finished the Blue-Gold spring game at No. 3 behind Everett Golson and Malik Zaire and was outperformed by walk-on quarterback Montgomery VanGorder in the intrasquad scrimmage, finishing just 1 of 5 for three yards.

But Golson’s departure for Florida State and Zaire’s injury against Virginia threw Kizer into the starting job and he seized that opportunity. His debut season was a phenomenal success, leading the Irish to the Fiesta Bowl and a 10-win season, completing 63 percent of his throws for 21 touchdowns while running for 10 more scores.

With an inexperienced receiving corps and a rebuilt offensive line, Kizer’s accuracy dipped to just under 59 percent in 2016, but he improved his touchdown passes to 26 while cutting his interceptions from 10 to nine. He ran for eight more scores and finishes his career at Notre Dame with 47 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions while scoring 18 times on the ground in two seasons.

Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

@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

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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

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.