Catching up with… Hannah Storm

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While her allegiances might not be as well known as other celebrities, Hannah Storm takes a back seat to no Notre Dame fan. In between trailblazing a path as an award-winning sports and newscaster, raising three daughters, writing books, producing movies, and starting her own charitable foundation, Hannah never misses a Saturday with the Notre Dame football team.

I was lucky enough to track down Hannah on her commute home from work, where she co-hosts daytime SportsCenter with Josh Elliott. (As pictured.) We spent plenty of time discussing a journalism career that started as a student broadcaster at WNDU, the late game antics of this Irish football team, and everything in between.

I hope you enjoy Catching Up… with Hannah Storm.

ON JOINING ESPN AFTER A STORIED CAREER AT CNN, NBC, AND CBS:

I love news, political reporting and covering breaking news, and loved the diversity of morning television news in particular, but after several years away, I began to really appreciate the concept and quality of sports broadcasting. It’s like doing breaking news all the time. Each game is an event. In a three hour show, you do quite a bit of breaking sports news, and you get to exercise those muscles a lot. Helping ESPN launch daytime SportsCenter, it was a perfect marriage with my experience and sensibilities. It worked with my personal life and having three children and being with them when they got off the bus, and not a lot of travel on the weekend. That daytime/morning slot, it has always been a big priority for me as a mom, and it felt like the best place for me to work. And the allure of being able to talk sports on TV for 15 hours a week, that was pretty powerful.

ON BALANCING FAMILY LIFE WITH HUSBAND DAN HICKS, NBC’S GOLF HOST:

One person is always at home. Dan is gone a good portion of weekends and the tail-end of the week. The weekends I usually have off, except during football seasons, where I work Sunday mornings, but it gives me all of Saturday and most of Sunday to be around. I have the furthest drive of everybody except one other regular anchor at ESPN, so I have a long commute every day, but I listen to the radio on the way in to catch up, and on the way home I do a lot of business. It usually works out where he’s there to take the kids to school in the morning and I’m home when the kids get home. Our schedules balance out really well, but sometimes it makes it that we don’t get enough time together, but in terms of our family as a whole, it works out well with our daughters.

ON STARTING A SPORTS-JOURNALISM CAREER AFTER GRADUATING FROM ND:

Sports were a part of my life, part of dinner table discussions and the fabric of my family. Sports were naturally where I wanted to go, but the only problem was there weren’t women doing sportscasting at the time. It was a highly unusual career choice and one that was quite challenging to get off the ground. I literally send hundreds of resumes and tapes with my work in college where I was a news reporter at WNDU. I couldn’t get anyone to hire me, and a male news director in a small market told me that a woman in that position is something the audience wouldn’t embrace and a sports director wouldn’t be happy working with a woman. On and on… I heard this from every single office I got into.

So my father, the ultimate optimist, said there are way more radio stations than TV stations, so I started applying for radio jobs. I went and made a radio tape, sat in the studio and recorded a couple of sports reports and started sending my radio tapes out. I got a job offer to do news in San Angelo, Texas and one to be a disc jockey at a heavy metal station in Corpus Christi. So I started DJ’ing in Corpus Christ and from there I kept trying to get into sports and finally I answered an ad for a job as a sportscaster in Houston during afternoon drive. It wasn’t very far away, so I made another reel, recorded it, and literally drove my tape and resume to Houston, went to the office, and sat in the lobby and waited for the program director. I was nervous, but how else was I going to introduce myself? I gave a very quick hello and handing him my reel and resume. I got a call back within three or four days, and the only thing he said that he really liked in my resume was that I had gone to Notre Dame.

ON PUBLIC SERVICE HOLDING A SPECIAL PLACE IN HER HEART:

My mother was very service oriented when we were growing up. That was something that was also part of our family’s fabric and something that flourished at Notre Dame, because there were so many opportunities to volunteer. I always dreamed of establishing a journalism scholarship of some sort, and also because I was born with a pretty significant birth mark on my face called a Port-wine stain, always wanted to help other children that were born in my position and needed surgery, but weren’t as fortunate as I was. Now that I have the ability to put my name on a foundation, after leaving CBS I started the Hannah Storm Foundation. We do a journalism scholarship through the alumni office at Notre Dame that allows kids to actually get real practical experience and build a portfolio of things that are published when they leave school. The other big part of our mission is to advocate on a national scale on behalf of children with these birthmarks. We’re working with the US government to change the insurance code so families will have an easier time getting covered, as well as going state by state getting Port-wine stains listed as medical procedures so people don’t have to pay out of pocket to get these surgeries. There are a lot of people that have this condition and just because of a birthmark they aren’t drawn to a profession in the public eye. It’s not a cause that’s talked about and I’m just very fortunate that I can have some type of celebrity that helps me bring a voice to this.

ON COVERING THE IRISH AS A NATIONAL JOURNALIST:

At NBC, I was told if there’s ever a flicker of favoritism towards Notre Dame that it’d be the last Notre Dame game I’d ever do. NBC was really conscientious in a very responsible way of making sure that we were fair, and as a ND grad, they went to me and said that I can’t show any favoritism for my alma mater. For me, it was a great exercise in being objective. Let’s face it, as a news reporter and a sports reporter, it’s critical.

Now that I’m at ESPN everyone who watches our show sort of knows that Josh like the Dodgers and the Lakers and I like Notre Dame, the Rockets and the Braves. Our show is very personality oriented, and when I was at CBS on the Early Show and now at ESPN, those kind of things leak out. Now I’m more well known as an avid Irish fan, although I obviously report the game objectively. There’s no way to flip it around or make it into something it’s not. If anything, I’m probably more brutally honest about my school because it’s mine and I care so much about it.

ON THE FATE OF THE IRISH FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON:

With this team, who knows? They’ve played so many close games and they’ve had the luck of the Irish along the way, as well as made their own opportunities along the way. With this team, I wouldn’t even try to predict the rest of the season. But I’ll tell you one thing, you turn on a ND game, each week it’s going to be exciting. I’ve been a little nervous and missed a few five o’clock masses because the Irish haven’t wrapped things up, but I think it’s been one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory for sure. 

Just in case you thought life wasn’t busy enough for Hannah, we also spent some time talking about her upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 project, a film called Unmatched. The movie chronicles the incredible 80 match rivalry between tennis stars Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and was Ha
nnah’s first foray into the
film business and was directed and produced with Emmy Award winning producers Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern. Find more about the project here.

For more information about the Hannah Storm foundation, click here.  

   

Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

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Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

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Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
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Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

HART CAREER STATISTICS
2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Notre Dame at USC
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There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

“We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

“USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

But it was, regardless.

His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.