Not one, not two, not three … Notre Dame named seven team captains for the 2019 season on Saturday, a larger number than perhaps usual but hardly a surprising one.
“I think it has much more to do with their ability to act as a unified group than it does anything else,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “They operate so much easier together as that group.”
Six of the seven are seniors, though two of those seniors could return in 2020. With the broad array, they cover the spectrum of career trajectories leading to a starring one, meaning every player on the roster should be able to relate to at least one of the seven.
Senior quarterback Ian Book: The first quarterback to serve as captain during Kelly’s Notre Dame tenure, Book handled last year’s quarterback change with aplomb, turning a moment that could have divided the team into one that brought the Irish together.
Senior safety Jalen Elliott: The only one of the seven captains to appear in every game of the last three seasons, Elliott best remembers the disaster that was 2016 and the steps to improve from then, literally an example of such himself.
Fifth-year receiver Chris Finke: How much more needs to be said about a former walk-on turned three-year starter?
Senior safety Alohi Gilman: A transfer, yes, thus making him an unlikely captain, but Gilman represents the rise from overlooked recruit to quality player as much as Finke does, and he is a vocal leader on the field.
Junior right tackle Robert Hainsey: A starter from the first week of his career, if not in name but in practice, Hainsey is the only one of these seven to understand the pressures that come with being an immediate contributor.
Senior defensive end Khalid Kareem: The example Kelly cited of accountability, someone not afraid to remind the coaching staff his offseason training group has fallen below wanted standards and needs to run as a result.
Senior defensive end Julian Okwara: The best player on the team usually ends up a captain, and that is Okwara this season, giving a look at what development is possible.
All seven were pondered before preseason practices began, along with four others. Having such a well of leadership stands in staunch difference to the 2016 roster, one Kelly has long said he failed to develop leadership on. Nowadays, seven captains nearly felt like a minimum, just given the quality of options available.
“I have set that model up in a way, where they operate a lot better when there’s much more of a consensus,” Kelly said. “A lot of the meetings I’ve been having over the past years, the last couple years since we set up these SWAT teams, has been with 8, 9, 10 indivduals. They just feel much more comfortable and have led in that fashion.”
All seven captains were indeed SWAT leaders this offseason, along with senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg.
This grouping may lack the unique story of an eccentric punter, but as a whole, they clearly bring the approach and respect Kelly wants. From star quarterback to former walk-on to forgotten recruit to junior standard-setter, they certainly cover the gamut.
Kelly confirms Kmet injury
Kelly said junior tight end Cole Kmet underwent surgery this week for a broken collarbone, needing a plate and six screws. Kmet’s timeline is 4-to-10 weeks, with Kelly hoping six might be realistic, putting Kmet back on the field just as the Irish head to Georgia.
“He has shown to be a really good healer,” Kelly said. “Came back from a high ankle sprain in a week. We’re going to take the positive end of this and think that we can get him back in 4-5 weeks. We’re hoping New Mexico (Sept. 14). Mother Nature will have a lot to do with that.”