Caroline Pineda

Notre Dame behind the scenes content blitz marks start of #FreemanEra

© Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Days after the Notre Dame football content team garnered widespread acclaim for its videos announcing Marcus Freeman as head coach, it followed it up with a savvy Signing Day campaign.

Through a series of videos playing to a theme that “the world is talking” about the Irish signees, the content team continued to captivate internet attention. Every piece began with variations of the phrase “Did you hear?” and followed with a slew of Notre Dame alumni and adjacent people raving about the commits in the class of 2022. The carefully curated videos were released as each member of the class signed, and they featured cameos from Hannah Storm, Mike Golic Jr., Joe Theismann and many others, each ending with Freeman affirming the commit was coming to Notre Dame.

While the videos seemed to fit the theme of a new era of Notre Dame football and reflective innovation from its social media accounts, assistant athletics director of football communications Katy Lonergan said the Signing Day content had been in the works for much longer. She estimated the first plans for the “world is talking” videos came in late April or early May, when the content team first met to discuss the Signing Day still seven-plus months off into the future.

That portion of the content was planned months before former head coach Brian Kelly left for LSU two days after the regular season ended, and the production team had already intended to release a video showing the behind-the-scenes work of the coaching staff. But Kelly’s departure led to an unexpected benefit for the content team, allowing for greater access on the road.

Compliance regulations mean that only the 11 members of the coaching staff (head coach plus 10 assistant coaches) are allowed in the homes of recruits. To accommodate those restrictions, cameras had been purchased for coaches to take on the road with them. But, according to Lonergan, the newly vacant spot on the staff allowed for football producer Emily Ragan to be designated as a coach for compliance reasons.

“The plan was already in place,” Lonergan said. “We were just able to kind of shift it and navigate it for what ended up being the view we originally wanted but couldn’t do because of compliance purposes.”

The look inside the coaching staff’s week of travel came at the tail end of a string of content showcasing different aspects of the start of Freeman’s head coaching tenure. It included day one and week one videos that featured the new head coach’s family and provided a look into the beginning of his time as head coach.

Lonergan said the day one and week one videos began with a suggestion from director of athletics Jack Swarbrick to document as much as possible. She said Swarbrick’s idea boiled down to this: “Don’t miss a moment, and then let’s see what moments should be shared.”

“And maybe you don’t show anything,” Lonergan said. “And maybe you end up with a great day one video. And then a lot of what we shot went into the first-week recap.”

On Dec. 9, the Notre Dame football PR team posted a summary of some of the key statistics from what they called “the week.” As of then, the videos from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6 had been viewed more than 7.7 million times, and there were more than 46 million impressions on the Notre Dame Football Twitter account.

The videos received overwhelmingly positive feedback, with many social media nods to the impressive production work throughout the whirlwind week inside the program. Freeman’s introductory press conference, which took place on Dec. 6 right before his packed recruiting road trip, was also highly lauded on Twitter.

Lonergan said the press conference planning began with a 20-person meeting and credited executive producer Jodain Massad with directing the production as it unfolded. But with the press conference and every other endeavor, Lonergan acknowledged there were too many people involved to name each one and emphasized the collaborative efforts that led to every piece of media throughout the two weeks.

Meanwhile, Lonergan said the players always remained the focus for the producers — as evidenced by the video of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis telling the team he was staying at Notre Dame. Shot on a cell phone so as not to alert the players that something would be happening, the video honed in on the reaction of the team more than Balis himself.

“Obviously, Balis was central to it, but their emotion was what was important for the video,” Lonergan said.

That drew parallels to the videos of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees announcing he was staying and of Freeman’s first introduction to the team as head coach — both of which placed a heavy emphasis on the players and their reactions. The latter video, which demonstrated Freeman’s popularity among the team, seemed to further increase the external excitement surrounding the program’s new coach.

“I think a lot of it is that people are really excited to get to know coach Freeman. And that’s what we’re allowing them to do,” Lonergan said. “I think that right now we’re trying to tell stories. We’re trying to tell his story, who he is as both a person and a coach.”

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.

Kyle Hamilton opts out of the Fiesta Bowl, ending Notre Dame career

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Navy at Notre Dame
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Notre Dame junior safety Kyle Hamilton has opted out of Notre Dame’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, as widely expected. Hamilton announced the decision early Friday afternoon.

“To my coaches: You have not only developed me into a better player, but a better man as well,” Hamilton wrote on Twitter. “You all have changed me for the better in ways that I could not have imagined coming into my freshman year. Thank you for believing in a skinny kid from Atlanta.”

Hamilton suffered a knee injury during Notre Dame’s 31-16 win over USC on Oct. 23, which then-head coach Brian Kelly described as a “pinched fat pad.” The initial timeline for a return ruled Hamilton out through the regular season. 

While unable to play, Hamilton, one of this year’s team captains, wore an earpiece during games to remain involved on the sideline. 


Head coach Marcus Freeman addressed Hamilton’s situation on Monday during Freeman’s introductory press conference, the day after the final College Football Playoff rankings were released with the Irish sitting at No. 5.

“His health is the No. 1 importance for any decision we make,” Freeman said. “Whatever is best for him and whatever is best for his health, I am going to support. We have not had that conversation, we have not made a decision, he has not made a decision.”

Hamilton may have played in the Playoff, but with the Irish headed to the Fiesta Bowl, Hamilton’s return immediately seemed much less likely, which was confirmed Friday.

That means the next time Hamilton sees game action will be in the NFL. He is projected to be a top-10 draft pick in April. Being selected that early would make Hamilton the highest-selected defensive player out of Notre Dame since Bryant Young went No. 7 overall in 1994.

Through his three years with the Irish, the Atlanta native racked up a long list of awards and achievements, a tenure that began with a statement performance in the 2019 home opener against New Mexico his freshman year. In that 66-14 win, Hamilton returned an interception for a touchdown on his first defensive snap in Notre Dame Stadium.

Over the next two and a half seasons, Hamilton drew national attention for his stellar football acumen and speed. He finished the 2019 season with 41 total tackles, four interceptions and six pass break-ups. In 2020, he led the team in tackles with 63 total and 51 unassisted. In the 2021 season opener, Hamilton notched two interceptions in a game for the first time in his career and had made 35 tackles before the knee injury.

Hamilton received multiple All-American honors after the 2020 season. As for 2021, he was an Associated Press Midseason All-American and was named a Walter Camp First Team All-American on Thursday despite missing most of the season.

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.

Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame


Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has decided to stay in South Bend, Notre Dame announced on Wednesday night. 

The Athletic’s Matt Fortuna first reported the news shortly before the Notre Dame Football account on Twitter released a video of Rees telling the team, beginning with, “It’s on Twitter.”

“This is where my heart is, and my heart’s with you guys, and I care too much to leave this place,” Rees said to at least some portion of the Irish roster. “This is where I want to be. This is where I want to win a national championship.”

The 29-year-old coordinator is finishing his second full season leading the offense. After Notre Dame parted ways with former offensive coordinator Chip Long in December 2019, Rees served in the same capacity for the Camping World Bowl against Iowa State — leading the Irish offense in a 33-9 drubbing of the Cyclones.

Rees has played a role in both of Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff berths, leading the 2020 offense to a 12-0 regular season record that included the double-overtime upset over No. 1 Clemson.

In 2018, with Rees then the quarterbacks coach, the Irish also went unbeaten in the regular season, in no small part thanks to Rees navigating through a delicate transition from Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book at quarterback, electing to give the latter his first start in the fourth game of the season despite Wimbush not having lost a game.

This season, Rees guided the Irish through a similar situation, playing to the strengths of Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, freshman Tyler Buchner and sophomore Drew Pyne — each of whom was largely responsible for at least one win on the schedule. 

Meanwhile, the Irish offense averaged 416.1 yards per game this season. Its average of 35.3 points per game was good for No. 21 in the country — the second highest mark in Kelly’s tenure behind 36.8 points per game in 2019.

On Tuesday, The Athletic’s Pete Sampson reported LSU made Rees an offer with a $400,000 pay increase to join Brian Kelly’s staff in Baton Rouge, adding that Rees would prefer to remain with his alma mater.

Rees played for the Irish from 2010 to 2013, when he recorded a 23-8 record as the starter. Rees spent 2015 as a graduate assistant at Northwestern, then became an assistant with the San Diego Chargers before making the move back to his alma mater in 2017. 

Rees’ four years as a player, combined with five years on Kelly’s coaching staff, mean that Rees was with Kelly for nine of the head coach’s 12 years in South Bend.

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.

Players’ groundswell of support burgeons Marcus Freeman’s candidacy to be Notre Dame’s next coach


It began not long after reports surfaced that head coach Brian Kelly was leaving Notre Dame for LSU. Irish players quickly took to Twitter to voice their support for the promotion of current defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to head coach.

By Tuesday morning, it had grown to a social media storm, a barrage of tweets where players — former, current and likely future — threw their support behind the defensive coordinator with less than a year of play-calling experience at the Power Five level. Through pictures with Freeman and statements such as Isaiah Foskey’s “You know what to do,” the sentiment became clear, and it quickly gained momentum. 

Foskey’s first career start came in this year’s season opener, and the junior defensive end now sits fourth all-time on the program’s single-season sacks list with 10. He has a decision to make about returning for a senior season or entering the NFL draft as a possible second-round pick. But even before his successful season under Freeman’s tutelage, Foskey held the coordinator in high regard. 

Before the home opener against Toledo, Foskey discussed Freeman with Jac Collinsworth on the ND on NBC Podcast, praising the coach’s sense of humor and effectiveness. 

“Every time he gets up in front of us, he’s all serious, but he always throws in little punchlines or little funny jokes here and there,” Foskey said. “He’s more of a chill defensive coordinator, but he always gets the point across.”

Many other players echoed the same feeling on Twitter, some of whom posted similar pregame photos with Freeman. Of those who have, some likely will be back next year, while some are expected to declare for the NFL Draft.

Kyle Hamilton falls into the latter category, expected to be Notre Dame’s first top-10 defensive pick since defensive tackle Bryant Young in 1994, but he chimed in to add his support on the “Inside the Garage” podcast, which the star safety co-hosts with cornerback Cam Hart, wide receiver Conor Ratigan and safety KJ Wallace.

At the 7:50 mark of their self-proclaimed “Emergency pod,” recorded late Monday night after the news broke, Hamilton clearly articulated his feelings about Kelly’s successor.

“I’ll put my vote out there for Marcus Freeman,” he said on the podcast. “Since he’s come in here, it feels like we’ve known him for years. He’s always even-keel, he’s the same guy every day. I think he’s a great leader, knows when to get on you, knows when to cheer you up, has a great sense of how we’re feeling. He’s a realist in terms of how he talks to us as a defense.”

Hamilton has praised Freeman for months; before the season opener at Florida State, he referred to the coordinator as “a light in the room every time he walks in.”

More generally, Freeman has been referred to as a “players’ coach” who is considered to be in tune with the college athletes he coaches. Before the Navy game, junior linebacker JD Bertrand praised Freeman’s ability to stay connected with the linebackers while also nurturing relationships with members outside of his own position group.

“So many times, especially when your coach can be the defensive coordinator, you might feel distant just in a sense that he’s trying to see big-picture things,” Bertand said. “But he does a great job connecting with the linebackers, but also just with every single teammate.”

While Freeman’s demeanor and outlook have earned him high praise from his players, they have also garnered extreme levels of support from many Irish defensive commits. Since the news broke that Kelly was headed to Baton Rouge, only one has decommitted: Devin Moore, a four-star defensive back from Florida.

Meanwhile, many have joined the Freeman endorsement chorus on Twitter. Numerous commits who chimed in included “#FreemanEra” in their Tweets and included photographs of them with the coach during recruiting visits. Consensus four-star defensive end Tyson Ford, the No. 104 player in the class of 2022 per, was Freeman’s first recruiting victory with the Irish, beating out Oklahoma for the St. Louis prospect’s pledge. Ford has not shown any wavering this week, instead focusing his thoughts on the seemingly-universal Freeman support.

The class of 2022, for which the early signing day period opens in exactly two weeks, currently contains seven consensus four-star recruits including Ford, five of whom are in the top 250. That haul would nearly match the previous three recruiting cycles combined, in which Notre Dame signed a total of eight players slotted within their respective top-250 rankings. As it pertains to his position group, Freeman boasts the nation’s top 2022 linebacker class. 

His 2023 recruiting profile is similarly impressive, with three commits in the top 40 rankings.

Freeman has long been praised for his recruiting prowess, which was one of the reasons he was so highly sought after last winter — and not just by Notre Dame. When Freeman arrived from Cincinnati in January 2021, he elected to join the staff at Notre Dame instead of taking the same job at LSU. Now, less than a year later, Freeman could reportedly be faced with another choice between the two schools; The Athletic’s Pete Sampson reported on Tuesday that Kelly contacted Freeman “on Monday in an effort to bring him to Baton Rouge. Kelly would intend to make Freeman the highest paid defensive coordinator in college football.”

Alongside former colleague and Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, Freeman is widely viewed as one of the most likely candidates to be considered for the top job at Notre Dame, and he appears to be the most popular choice among players.

But whether or not Freeman is named the next head coach at Notre Dame, the players’ Twitter comments do serve as a reminder of the current era of college football — one driven by social media that gives players a public platform to share their opinions on the program’s future.

And Notre Dame’s players just took full advantage of that capability.

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.

The long road on Thanksgiving nothing new for Notre Dame equipment truck drivers

Notre Dame equipment
Courtesy: Bernie Ferro and Tony Imel

Notre Dame’s tradition of ending the regular season in California has created a unique Thanksgiving tradition for the two people responsible for transporting the team’s equipment: more than 80 hours in a semi-truck.

Bernie Ferro and Tony Imel have driven the Irish equipment truck to road games for 10 years, including to the usual finale at Southern California or Stanford. 

The latest installment of the long trek began Monday at 11 a.m. ET, two days earlier in the week than they left for every other game this season. By the time they arrived at the team’s hotel on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. PT, Ferro and Imel had driven for an estimated 40 hours. During a phone interview when they were near Flagstaff, Ariz., on Wednesday, the duo told Inside the Irish they typically drive until about 11 p.m. or 12 a.m., sleep at a truck stop and resume the trip between 6 or 7 a.m. 

When mapped, the fastest route from Notre Dame to Palo Alto, Calif., would take 33 hours, but that path cuts through Wyoming and the northern regions of Utah and Nevada, which have often already seen snowfall by the end of November and therefore could pose hazardous driving conditions for the semi. So Ferro and Imel opt for a southern route instead, heading from Chicago to St. Louis before cutting through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Once in California, the path sends them north on Interstate 5 to Stanford Stadium.

According to Google Maps, driving that route in a car would typically take about 36 hours. But with Ferro and Imel driving a semi-truck hauling 40,000 pounds of trunks containing standard and backup sets of gear, they said it usually takes them closer to 40 hours.

Ferro and Imel have traveled the same route since they started driving the equipment truck. Except for last season’s COVID-adjusted schedule, the two have made the drive every year for the last decade, when the Notre Dame football program upscaled its equipment travel operation.

“It was basically just a small Penske Truck up until about 10 years ago,” head equipment manager Chris Bacsik said. “And we would have two guys just hop in it on Monday and take it out there for us. We traveled a lot differently, a lot lighter.”

Bacsik said the program contracted Towne Air Freight, which was later bought out by Forward Air. The company is responsible for supplying the truck and its drivers; Ferro and Imel both previously worked for Towne Air Freight and stayed on with Forward Air after the buyout. Ferro and Imel have been with the companies for 39 years and 30 years, respectively.

Over the last 10 years, the two have grown accustomed to fans’ excited reactions to the novelty of the truck, which features the “Wake Up the Echoes” slogan over a picture of Notre Dame Stadium on its side.

“A lot of fans drive by us, and they’re waving to us and giving us a thumbs up, taking pictures of the truck as we’re going on,” Ferro said. “Last night when we stopped somewhere, we pulled in to get something to eat, and all of the sudden, there’s people all around taking pictures of the truck.”

During the latter half of the season, the truck is always transporting cold-weather gear in addition to the team’s standard equipment. It’s an added precaution that makes sense given the wide range of possible weather conditions in Northern California, especially when the truck carrying that equipment leaves multiple days ahead of the team.

“A lot of the stuff, in a best-case scenario, it never even comes off the truck,” Bacsik said. “But we have it on there just to be safe. So that if the truck for this game leaves on Monday, say all of a sudden on Wednesday, the temperature drops and it’s a 15-degree swing, we’re already covered because it’s on the truck.”

In charge of arranging the gear is associate equipment manager Dan Glynn, who visualizes and plans the equipment’s truck placement based on the team’s schedule for the weekend. For example, according to Bacsik, Glynn might arrange equipment differently if the team uses a local high school for an additional practice or walkthrough like it will on Saturday morning before the primetime kickoff on FOX (8 ET).

Then, on Saturday night, Ferro and Imel will start packing up the truck as soon as the team takes the field for the second half. They will be assisted by a former and a current manager, with four people being enough to ensure the truck will be ready to leave when the team does.

“When the (game) clock hits zero, in about 55 minutes, everybody’s on the (team) bus and rolling, and the truck’s fully packed,” Bacsik said.

But while the team enjoys the relative comfort of a chartered cross-country flight, Ferro and Imel will set off on the second half of their journey — with 40 hours of asphalt between them and South Bend.

A senior at Notre Dame studying Film & Television with a Journalism minor, Caroline Pineda has assisted the “ND on NBC” broadcasts from the sideline since 2019 and is bringing some much-needed quality writing to “Inside the Irish” this season, as well, just as she did throughout 2020.