Versatility critical for Notre Dame's McDaniel
SOUTH BEND — Someday, maybe, Notre Dame football fans are going to stop taking Cam McDaniel for granted.
He doesn’t have the flat-out sprinter’s speed that made now-departed George Atkinson III a threat. He’s not elusive like sophomore Tarean Folston. He lacks the combination of speed and power that will make redshirt freshman Greg Bryant special.
McDaniel just gains yards. Not flashy, but ultra-consistent.
McDaniel, a 5-foot-10, 207-pound senior running back, led the Irish in rushing last season with 705 yards and three touchdowns on 152 carries.
Not bad for a guy who spent time last spring at cornerback, trying to find somewhere he might get some playing time.
“At running back, everyone talks about the No. 1 guy,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “You’re going to have two or three guys that are going to play for you. You’re never going to feature one guy.”
The easiest way to explain what McDaniel means to Notre Dame would be to put on the tape of the final 7:22 of the 31-24 Irish win at Purdue last September. Leading by seven with the ball at its own 25, Notre Dame turned to McDaniel.
Even though there were three carries for no yards, time was chewed up. In all, McDaniel carried 10 times for 42 yards and ran out the clock to seal the victory.
Besides Purdue, his big games were against BYU (24 carries, 117 yards), USC (18-97) and Arizona State (15-82).
He doesn’t have the speed to beat many to the edge of the defense, but McDaniel’s not going to be brought down by the first hit very often.
“I consider myself a versatile back that can bring consistency; make plays,” he said. “I can make dynamic plays. I can do whatever I’m asked to do. I’m versatile enough to thrive in any situation.”
With quarterback Everett Golson returning from a year in academic exile, the Irish running game, which averaged about 149 yards last season, should get a significant boost. Golson adds a dynamic that was lacking with Tommy Rees under center.
“Being able to build off (last year’s success will help),” McDaniel said. “We have the ability to have one of the best run games in the nation this year. With (Golson) being back as a dual threat, and the talent we have in the backfield … I’m excited for what’s going on and the game plan that we’ve got. It’s going to be a great opportunity for all of us.”
There are two logical steps in the maturation process for McDaniel. On the field, he must become a threat in the passing game — he caught six passes for 34 yards last season — and he has the opportunity to become a leader in the locker room.
“I’m looking to step up where I’m needed,” McDaniel said. “I want to lead this team. I want to be a standard bearer for work ethic, leadership and the whole bit.
“Leadership doesn’t start when you’re a senior. It starts when you’re a freshman. It starts with the ability to jump in and follow when you need to follow; to observe who’s doing what right, and who’s doing what wrong; and how you can compound and build off that going into the next year.
“To just jump into a leadership role isn’t really possible. You have to have the (intangibles) of being a leader. That’s something that I carry. For me, leadership is natural. It’s stepping into a position to be a standard bearer for this team.”
While fans will be tempted to get wrapped up in Folston and Bryant, the two young phenoms ready to become stars, McDaniel may be the old man who supplies the glue for the Irish offense.
“It felt like I was just a freshman walking in here not too long ago,” he said. “Now, going into my senior year, it’s actually kind of surreal.
“We’re all competing for carries. That’s well understood. We do what we can to compete in practice. We’re all trying to make a statement. The one who performs is the one who’s going to be on the field first, most of the time.”
But, like McDaniel learned in the Purdue game, the guy on the field at the end has the game in his hands.
Nobody will ever take that for granted.