Notebook: Notre Dame will rotate No. 1 jersey in 2016

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — What’s in a number?

When it comes to uniform No. 1 for the Notre Dame football team, suddenly a lot more than seniority, who whines/begs the loudest or who happened to wear it in high school.

Starting this fall, it will be an honor of sorts. A weekly honor that will rotate from player to player.

“That’s going to be the player who exemplifies himself both on and off the field in a manner that represents all the things we want a Notre Dame football player to represent,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday on Budweiser’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show on WSBT.

“And he will wear that No. 1, because it signifies that he’s the best.”

The other mega-desired, single-digit numbers will be assigned with more discretion and purpose than in the past, though those numbers won’t rotate from week to week.

Kelly and assistant strength coach Jeff Quinn concocted a point system that tracks players’ performance on and off the field, similar to the “No. 1” criteria.

“I’d go out on the road, and we’re closing deals with guys to come to Notre Dame,” Kelly said, “and the first question is, ‘Can I get a No. 4, a No. 5 or a No. 6?’ Now there are defensive linemen asking for single-digit numbers.

“It got to the point where what we’re going to do is we’re going to compete for single digits and make it a merit system.”

Quite a catch in two sports

Notre Dame wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., being picked by the Los Angeles Angels last week in the 23rd round of the baseball draft didn’t tempt the son of recently retired Major League outfielder Torii Hunter to consider pushing aside football.

At least not in 2016.

Hunter figures to be the ND football team’s top option in the passing game this season, while he has played sparingly as an outfielder for the Irish baseball team the past two seasons and not at all as a freshman. Still, he moved up 13 rounds from where he was drafted as a high school senior.

“Here’s what I told him, ‘Sixth-round draft picks in football this year — sixth round — had a $100,000 signing bonus,” Kelly said. “So if you were a 23rd-round pick in baseball, would you get $100,000? And I think you’re way better than a sixth-round pick in football. So how about you play really well this year for everybody.’ ”

Hunter is heading into his senior season in football, but he does have a fifth-year option for 2017 because he was a medical redshirt as a freshman in 2013.

“He graduates at mid-year,” Kelly said. “Whether he comes back for another year or not, we’ll see how that goes. But if he has a really, really good year this year, then he can take stock as to what the best decision is for him.

“I think he’s a guy who could do quite well for himself. You saw what kind of bonuses second-and third-round (NFL) picks can get. It’s a whole lot more than $100,000. So I think he’s got a lot of options in front of him.”

A nose for normalcy?

A torn MCL ligament in his right knee that wiped out all but a handful of downs of nose guard Jarron Jones’ 2015 season occurred before a Lisfranc (arch) injury to his left foot had completely healed. That injury truncated the end of Jones’ 2014 season.

All of which created a mental hurdle for the grad senior this offseason that he labored to clear in the spring, not to mention the physical challenges of getting back up to speed.

“I think he’s making great progress with it,” Kelly said. “Would we like for him to be further along? Absolutely, but I like the little things that he’s doing and maturing to the point where he recognizes, ‘This is it for me. It’s one and done.’

“Can he play 70 plays for us? No. But I’m going to tell you, he’s going to give us 35 plays, and I think he’s at the point now where he recognizes what he needs to do.”

Jones, who could be an impact player on defense if healthy, is projected to share time at nose guard with junior Daniel Cage, who became the starter last season when Jones was out.

“Look, all of our guys on my staff would like him to play 50-60 plays,” Kelly said of Jones, “but he’s not going to be able to do that. But I think he’s going to be able to be a really good player for us at the level he’s capable of doing it physically.

“He’s long. He’s 6-foot-6, and it’s hard to stay in there and hunker down for a long as he can. But I think he’s taken a step these last few weeks after he’s got his degree and graduated. That does something to a kid. He feels good about himself. And I think that’s going to carry him into the season.”

Getting an A in Football 101

More than 600 women participated Tuesday in the Kelly Cares Foundation’s signature Football 101 event. Because of the threat of rain, the seventh-annual fundraiser was held inside the Loftus Center at Notre Dame.

The women got a crash course in football, including getting to interact with Notre Dame players and coaches and getting to run through drills themselves.

Kelly said Tuesday’s rendition pushed the money raised to more than $750,000 from that event alone over seven years and that the foundation overall has funneled more than $3 million back into the Michiana Community through all of its fundraising events.

“Research is great,” Kelly said of himself and wife Paqui. “It’s so important. But we’re first responders. We want to help right away, so our foundation takes a little different bent, because of our personalities.

“We want to raise money and get help right away. And this community has been unbelievable. They keep coming, and it allows us to keep giving back.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame will rotate the No. 1 jersey throughout the 2016 season. (SBT Photo/Robert Franklin)