Notre Dame RB McDaniel plays dual role

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Cam McDaniel remembers his losses.

Three times in his football career McDaniel’s team has lost when he considered himself a key leader.

All three of those losses came in high school.

Taking on a leadership role as a senior at Notre Dame, McDaniel isn’t ready to add any more losses on his watch.

“I just want to be a guy that is really able to put the team on my shoulders and win,” McDaniel said. “I want to win. I want to win it all. I came here to win a national championship. This is my last shot. I fully expect to do that this year.”

Part of what drives the 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back is the pain of those three losses at Coppell (Texas) High. Two came his junior season – a 24-6 loss to Southlake Carroll in the regular season and a 31-29 playoff loss to Arlington.

The agony came to a peak in the final seconds of his senior season. With time expiring on the final play of the game, Euless Trinity scored on a two-yard touchdown run for a 41-40 regional victory. McDaniel could only watch and wince.

“Two of those games I was watching the defense from the sideline,” McDaniel said. “I came here to win and that’s what I want to do. I want to make sure that we’re a winning team and an explosive offense. I want to contribute in whatever way I can to do that as a leader and as a player.”

That starts with taking ownership of the 2014 team. McDaniel notably didn’t mention last season’s four losses with the Irish as marks on his career as a leader. He won’t be able to dodge responsibility this season. Captains won’t be named until later this month, but McDaniel has to be on the short list of players in the discussion.

If McDaniel doesn’t receive the “C” on the jerseys of Notre Dame captains, he will still be a pivotal part of a running back trio shouldered with high expectations.

“I’m excited to steward that responsibility and to be a guy that is going to carry us to a championship,” McDaniel said. “I feel like we embrace that as even just our running back brand. We embrace that opportunity.”

McDaniel and sophomore running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant combined for 243 carries and 1,189 rushing yards last season. But gone is the big-play threat of George Atkinson, who led the backfield with a six yards-per-carry average and owned the longest rush, an 80-yard touchdown, of last season.

McDaniel expects the 2014 offense to be different than the one directed by former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. New coordinator Mike Denbrock and head coach Brian Kelly could add some wrinkles to put the running backs in better situations.

“There’s similar ideologies, but I think as the season unfolds you’ll begin to see more of what coach Kelly’s wanting to do,” McDaniel said. “He’s a very fast-tempo guy. He’s willing to do what it takes to win. That’s what I like about him. That’s why I came here. I feel like we’re going to do a good job being an explosive offense this year. We’re going to spread the field, and we’re going to make big plays.”

One of the biggest areas of improvement could come in the passing game. Last season, the running backs combined for only 25 catches for 150 yards with no back hauling in more than seven receptions. Plenty of time was spent in Notre Dame’s first practice on passing connections between the quarterbacks and running backs.

“I want to do that,” McDaniel said. “I want to prove myself as a guy that can make plays out of the backfield, get on the perimeter and show a different dynamic of my game that I don’t think many people have seen.”

The talented sophomore duo of Folston and Bryant will continue to threaten to take carries away from McDaniel, but all three will have ample chances to impact games.

“I’m not as concerned about that one coming in and announcing who the starting running back is,” Kelly said. “If it happens, that would be fine. So I think with that, there’s enough room for all three of those guys to play substantial roles in our offense, and I would expect that all three of them do.”

Folston and Bryant can both learn from McDaniel, who’s trying to balance being a mentor and fighting for prominence in a crowded backfield. While the younger players could be NFL-bound in a couple years, the last big games of McDaniel’s career could be looking him in the face this season.

“I love both those guys and they have a lot of talent and potential. I think they’re going to do great things here,” McDaniel said. “I’m always looking to pour into those guys and do what I can as a leader to make sure that they’re going to excel at what they do. We’re buddies off the field, but when we get out here, we compete. We all expect to start.”

McDaniel emerged as the leading rusher last season as a result of his consistency. He built a reliable reputation and worked his way to 705 yards and three touchdowns. He’s willing to share his carries, but he’s not ready to concede anything.

“I’m looking to be a guy that puts the team on my shoulders,” McDaniel said. “I’m a competitor, so I expect to be the guy. I expect to carry this team. I expect to make big plays this year. Again, this is an offense I thrive in. I feel like we’re going to see this more and more as the year unfolds. I’m looking to have a really big year, so I’m really excited about it.” ¦ 574-235-6214 ¦ Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson hands off the ball to teammate Cam McDaniel with teammates during the first training camp practice on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, at Culver Academies in Culver, Ind. (NDI Photo/ Robert Franklin)