Notre Dame football: Hendrix, Welch follow Martin to Miami

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

Andrew Hendrix was so intent on rebooting his Notre Dame experience, he had already started lifting weights, had already met and talked with his new Miami of Ohio football teammates and coaches.

Just about everything proactive toward the future except take a peek at who actually shows up on the RedHawks’ 2014 schedule.

“We play Michigan? Up there, huh?” the transferring grad student-to-be/quarterback remarked when apprised of his new team’s plans for Sept. 13. “Cool. I came in and threw a Hail Mary just before halftime this year up there.”

The one-time four-star recruit and former Cincinnati Moeller star is banking on a more-complete experience this time around.

“Obviously nothing is ever given,” said Hendrix, who spent the past season as a distant No. 2 to senior Tommy Rees on the Irish depth chart, “but I thought Miami gave me a great opportunity to showcase my development, just to be able to play a full season with a guy who I know and respect. So Miami just gave me a great opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”

The guy who is running the show at Miami now is former Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin, roughly five weeks into his regime in Oxford, Ohio, where his charge is to resuscitate a tradition-rich program that lost all 12 games in 2013 and tied for last in scoring with Florida International in the 123-team FBS at 9.8 points per game.

Hendrix confirmed to the South Bend Tribune on Wednesday the transfer is complete and that he’ll start classes Jan. 27. Irish tight end Alex Welch also confirmed Wednesday he’ll take his fifth-year option at Miami as well.

Both players received their degrees from ND in December and will use the NCAA’s grad school transfer rule to gain immediate eligibility without the normal one-year sitting-out period.

Players during the Kelly Era who have exercised that option include Brandon Newman (Ball State), Hafis Williams (UMass), Deion Walker (UMass), Dayne Crist (Kansas), Mike Ragone (Kansas), Anthony McDonald (Kansas), Matt Romine (Tulsa), Steve Paskorz (West Virginia), Emeka Nwankwo (Western Illinois), Dan Wenger (Florida) and most recently tight end Jake Golic (Cincinnati), whose second chance was sabotaged by an injury before he could even gain some momentum.

The RedHawks do play Cincinnati as well in 2014 (on Sept. 20), presenting the possibility of ND transfer quarterbacks facing each other in that game. Gunner Kiel, who left in the spring of 2013 and sat out this past season, resurfaces as a candidate to lead the Bearcat offense in 2014.

The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Hendrix played in eight games for the Irish (9-4) in 2013. Hendrix completed two of his 14 passes for 56 yards, and ran 16 times for 26 yards and a touchdown. His best season statistically came in 2011 (249 passing yards on 49 percent accuracy, 162 rushing yards on 25 carries in five cameos), when Hendrix almost overtook Tommy Rees late that season for the starting spot.

Kelly, in fact, opened up the QB job after the 2011 season, and Hendrix had a strong spring. But then-redshirt freshman Everett Golson surged toward the end of spring and kept the momentum over the summer to claim the job for 2012 over Hendrix, Rees and Kiel.

Golson’s season-long suspension for academic misconduct knocked him out of the running in 2013, and Rees was named the No. 1 QB by Kelly shortly after the May announcement that Golson was out for the season.

Did Hendrix feel like he ever got a fair shot? He danced deftly around the question.

“What happened at Notre Dame was four long years,” he said, “but I had a great time there. People always ask, ‘Would you go back and change your decision if you could?’

“That seems like a silly question. I am Notre Dame. I think I will be forever. I would never change it for the world. So all those things — all the processing, all the what-ifs — I’m just trying to put those in the rear-view mirror and start a new chapter.”

Two of the three QBs who took meaningful snaps in 2013 for Miami return, including redshirt freshman Austin Gearing, the team’s leading rusher. Tom Tupa Jr., the son of former Ohio State and longtime NFL punter/quarterback Tom Sr., will be among those competing with Hendrix for the job.

Welch will have to compete too, but he finally feels like he’s in position to do so after sitting out the 2012 season with an ACL tear in his right knee and laboring with the aftereffects through training camp and the first couple of games of the season.

The 6-foot-4, 251-pound Welch saw action in 11 games this season primarily on special teams, and made one start — Oct. 26 against Air Force. The former Cincinnati Elder High standout’s only career catch came during the 2011 season.

“For most of the season, my knee obviously wasn’t where it used to be and needed to be,” Welch said. “Obviously, injuries are a part of football. That’s why I chose Notre Dame in the first place. And it was a great decision. I got a degree from there. I met a lot of nice people who will be friends for a lifetime.

“When I went to coach (Brian) Kelly to tell him what I wanted to do, he understood but said he wanted me back. I just felt like it was in my best interests to go somewhere else and play a little more. At Miami, it’s close to home and I love coach Martin. I know the offense already and playing with Andrew is going to be great.”

The departures and the impending one of senior cornerback Lo Wood, along with the NFL Draft defections of George Atkinson III, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, would put the Irish at 64 scholarships if the remaining six players with fifth-year options all were invited back and accepted.

Add the 23 players already committed in the 2014 recruiting class and that puts ND over the 85-scholarship limit by two. And the Irish are open to adding four more recruits, theoretically putting ND at 91 scholarships, which would mean Kelly is anticipating further attrition and/or minimal fifth-year candidates to return.

Both Hendrix and Welch said they had many other options besides Miami, though Welch said his commitment to practicing for the Pinstripe Bowl prevented him from taking any visits to other schools.

“He has a chip on his shoulder just like I do,” said Hendrix, who said he still plans to attend med school when football ends. “I think that chip’s going to show in that first practice of spring ball and moving forward as well. We’re going to work hard to prove a lot of people wrong.”

And perhaps play beyond next year.

“Every kid has a dream to go to the NFL,” Hendrix said. “The reason I transferred — and I hate that word by the way for this situation — is I want to go out there with the guys and play for four quarters. It’s not about the NFL dream.

“When all is said and done, maybe I will catch some eyes, I don’t know. I’m just excited to get the opportunity to play and compete. After that, we’ll see what happens.”

Notre Dame quarterback Andrew Hendrix (12) goes airborne after being upended by a USC defender during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER