Notre Dame football: McDaniel becomes a model citizen

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Hard to gauge exactly how well Cam McDaniel has embraced the viral attention he has gotten the past couple weeks.

One picture was worth way more than a thousand words.

An afterthought in the Notre Dame football team's running game the last two seasons — so much so that he even spent some stints at defensive back — the 5-foot-10, 207-pound McDaniel never wavered in his self-belief, or was never caught lacking in the self-confidence department.

But what McDaniel has dealt with the last two weeks has gone far beyond anything that has happened on the field — sort of.

McDaniel, a hard-nosed, straight-ahead, get-out-of-my-way sort of runner from Coppell, Texas, leads the Irish in carries (91), yards gained (417) and helmet pop-offs (4).

The first two categories can be easily explained. McDaniel isn't flashy, but he's efficient. Three yards at a crack is acceptable, given the current state of the Irish running game — which is somewhere between fuzzy and forlorn.

That third grouping isn't easy for anyone to understand. Helmet fits. Chin straps buckle. So what's the deal?

"I was asking (head equipment manager) Ryan Grooms about that," Irish head coach Brian Kelly said of the mystery surrounding McDaniel's lid. "I guess they must have some kind of deal going where he gets cuts on any kind of placement he gets on the front page (of a newspaper). I don't know. But he needs to keep his helmet on because he's gotta come off the field every time that happens."

The front page of a newspaper is small change compared to the global celebrity that was thrust upon McDaniel minutes after the completion of Notre Dame's win over Southern Cal two weeks ago.

During that game, McDaniel's helmet popped off during a carry. A Getty Images photo caught the expression on his face as cool, calm and collected — with mayhem around him everywhere.

The social media world, which has a soft spot for beautiful people, went gaga. Sex sells, you know.

"It was kind of a strange coincidence that ended up happening," McDaniel said. "It was kind of comical at the time. We had fun with it for 72 hours, then it came and went, just like all social media things do."

The popularity hit a crescendo late last week. According to Michael Bertsch, Notre Dame's director of football media relations, his office was bombarded with interview requests. CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, TMZ, Fox's morning show, Inside Edition and the Huffington Post were clamoring. A TV station in Toledo couldn't understand why McDaniel wouldn't drive two hours east for an in-studio interview.

Last Friday, before the Irish left for Air Force, McDaniel made a brief appearance on NBC's Today Show. Three female co-hosts embarrassed themselves, fawning all over McDaniel, who was hooked up by satellite, in the brief segment.

"(The Today Show) was a fun opportunity," McDaniel said. "I really wish (not finishing his thought) ... It was good."

While McDaniel said he has been besieged by people who can't understand why such a handsome guy is in a committed relationship, he boldly states he is perfectly happy being engaged to Stephanie Sterrett.

"She's definitely real," McDaniel said.

Sorry Cam, after last year with Manti, had to ask.

"She's handled it very well," McDaniel said of his fiancé. "From the time she saw the picture, even before it went viral, she thought it was really funny. We're all kind of shocked at the whole scenario and how everything has turned out."

While talking about the situation, it seemed to dawn on McDaniel that he has been given a pretty effective pulpit to make a statement about who he is.

"I was shocked at how fast it went viral," McDaniel said. "I would never expect to be in a position I was put in with this whole ... almost like some people portraying it as some sort of sex symbol; some model-type thing.

"That's kind of the exact opposite of the guy I am. I'm an engaged man. I have a beautiful fiancé. We have a lot of trust in one another.

"I live for Jesus. That's who I stand for, first and foremost. I want people to know that.

"I've had people come up and tell me, 'Why are you engaged?' Or, 'It doesn't seem smart on your part to be engaged.'

"I find myself counter-cultural in a lot of ways. Jesus was a counter-cultural type of guy. I'm very content with my situation; very happy with my situation. I wouldn't have it any other way.

"If any way that could be represented to show that I live my life in a different way, and people ask and question why, and for me to be able to share my testimony, if anything, I think that would be an amazing platform."

Then again, this is a football team; a group of 18-22-year-olds who aren't afraid to have a little fun at someone else's expense. Soon after McDaniel's very serious testimony, tight end Troy Niklas changed the mood. He secretly joined the gaggle of reporters and had his own questions.

"World Press," Niklas said, as if he was flashing his credential. "What exactly do you call that look and how long have you been working on it?"

McDaniel played along and didn't hesitate with his response.

"People are starting to call it 'Blue Steel,'" he said, referring to the term for a modeling pose that became popular in the Ben Stiller movie about male models, "Zoolander." "The funny thing is, literally, the night before all this went viral, I was watching 'Zoolander.' I kid you not. I promise you. People had not mentioned any modelesque-type things before this. Such a strange coincidence."

Though Niklas, with a smile, suggested otherwise, McDaniel completely dispelled rumors that he and Niklas planned on leaving Notre Dame after this season to go pro — as models.

All McDaniel is focused on now is Saturday's game with Navy — and how he plans to keep his helmet in place.

"We're still trying to figure out (why the helmet pops off)," McDaniel said. "We've got double (chin) straps this week, two buttons on the side of my helmet. We're trying to eliminate that issue. It's stayed on against Air Force."

Scary thing is, playing without a helmet doesn't bother him that much anymore.

"Usually, it's pretty uncomfortable (without a helmet in the heat of battle)," McDaniel said. "It's almost like I've gotten used to it because it's happened so much in youth football, high school football, and now college football.

"You're playing against guys, this is Division I football, but guys aren't trained killers. They're not trying to take your head off. Once the whistle blows, you know you're protected. You just have to ride out the play."

And wait for the modeling deals to come rolling in.

Notre Dame's Cam McDaniel (33) makes his way through traffic during the college football game between Notre Dame and USC on Saturday, October 19, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN