A flood of awards for Notre Dame, with Joe Schmidt earning MVP

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Of course, there was a near-hour delay at Notre Dame’s official celebration of its 2014 football season on Friday night.

And an evacuation.

And report of a small fire in the basement of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center that later was scratched and revised to a water-main break. With the person authorized to turn off the water at a nearby mall at the time.

And six elite recruiting prospects standing outside for roughly 20 minutes in freezing temperatures with no coats. And subsequently no working bathrooms in the building.

“Water flooded portions of the basement of the facility,” university spokesman Dennis Brown said. “The cause and damage estimates are to be determined.”

The 94th annual ND football end-of-the-year banquet, that in recent years has morphed away from rubber chicken and into a slick red-carpet awards show and hors d’oeuvres fest, featured one more semi-unique feature that few of its previous 93 predecessors could match.

Mystery up until the team MVP was announced.

The award Friday night went to former walk-on Joe Schmidt, a senior linebacker whose last game action came on Nov. 1 in a 49-39 survival of Navy in Landover, Md. It was in that game that Schmidt was lost for the season with a leg injury that required surgery.

The Irish were 7-1 when Schmidt exited the active roster, 0-4 without him. It’s a losing streak that flushed Notre Dame from the periphery of the national College Football Playoff picture and into an intriguing but imposing matchup in the Music City Bowl opposite LSU (8-4), Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.

“I tried to perfect my game,” Schmidt said of his ascension from walk-on to part-time player to MVP. “I worked on my craft at all times. And that wasn’t just on the field.

“You can ask the people closest to me, I have a bedtime. I have a very strict regimen I put on myself. I’m extremely self-disciplined, and I wanted to make sure when my opportunity came I was ready for it. That’s really been my goal.

“I never really thought about being a MVP or being a walk-on or being a scout-team player. It’s never been about that. It’s about being the best player I could be on that particular play. And when I go out there again, that’s the way it’s going to be again.”

Statistically, with Schmidt in the lineup on a full-time basis over the team’s first seven games, Notre Dame allowed 19.1 points per game, 102.7 rushing yards per game and 345.6 total yards per game.

Without Schmidt over the final four games, the Irish allowed 44.5 points per game, 221.2 rushing yards per game and 486.2 total yards per game.

Former Notre Dame All-America women’s basketball player Skylar Diggins and NBC Sports analyst Mike Mayock emceed the event, the former perhaps the best recruiting advantage the Irish rolled out Friday night.

High school prospects making official visits included cornerback Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif.), tight end Alize Jones (Las Vegas), running back Ronald Jones (McKinney, Texas), safety Tyree Kinnel (Huber Heights, Ohio), running back Jordan Cronkrite (Palmetto Bay, Fla.), and safety Gary Jennings (Stafford, Va.).

They were joined by UAB running back Jordan Howard, whose school liquidated its football program earlier this month.

Howard is a 6-foot-1, 228-pound sophomore from Gardendale, Ala., with two seasons of eligibility remaining. The nation’s seventh-leading rusher amassed 1,587 yards on 306 carries (5.2 average) with 13 touchdowns for UAB (6-6) in 2014. He added nine receptions for 72 yards with one TD catch.

A total of 16 official awards, voted on by the players, were handed out Friday night. The semi-stunner is that senior quarterback Everett Golson was shut out.

One unofficial award, decided by people texting their choice, went to senior defensive back Matthias Farley, named best dressed. Farley leaped out of his seat and ran up on stage only to be given a verbal smackdown by Mayock.

"That's the quickest I saw you move this year,” he joked.

A pair of sophomores won Offense and Defense Players of the Year — wide receiver Will Fuller and linebacker Jaylon Smith, respectively. Special Teams Player of the Year went to a wide receiver who recorded 10 tackles, junior C.J. Prosise.

Junior Ronnie Stanley was named the team’s top offensive lineman, while junior Sheldon Day won the award for the defensive line.

The Nick Pietrosante Award, given to the player who best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Irish All-America fullback, went to senior running back Cam McDaniel.

Sophomore wide receiver Corey Robinson and his 3.83 cumulative grade-point average garnered the Rockne Student Athlete Award.

Other award winners were Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year Tyler Plantz, Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year Austin Larkin, Offensive Newcomer of the Year Torii Hunter Jr., Defensive Newcomer of the Year Drue Tranquill, Irish Around the Bend (community service) Kyle Brindza, Father Lange Iron Cross Christian Lombard, Tire Rack Play of the Year Ben Koyack (TD catch vs. Stanford) and Next Man In Justin Utupo.

Schmidt wasn’t the only one who limped to the podium or, in his case, was on crutches. True to form, after he broke his fibula and suffered other complications Nov. 1 against Navy, he was running around on the sideline and doing calf raises, trying to get loose to go back into the game.

Eventually, as his left ankle kept slipping out of joint, he turned into a coach and immediately tried to get freshman Nyles Morgan ready to go in the game — before he would relent to serious medical attention. He’ll remain in that coaching role until he’s cleared to play again.

Schmidt is determined that will happen ahead of schedule and in time to participate in next spring’s practices.

“That’s my goal,” said Schmidt, who said his father gave him markers and a pad of paper when he was 5 years old and asked him to make a goal list for the first time at that tender age.

“I wanted to color,” he admitted.

Schmidt ended up doing just that, and what a picture it turned out to be.


Notre Dame senior Joe Schmidt is back from a broken fibula and ready for fall camp. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)