New Notre Dame captains part of the solution in moving past lost weekend

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The feel-good portion of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly’s latest meeting with the media, on Wednesday night, lasted about as long as his newly minted Irish captains got to bask in the prestige facet of their untrodden status.

Reality soaked in with lightning speed and impact for seniors Mike McGlinchey, Torii Hunter Jr., Isaac Rochell and James Onwualu that they are expected to be part of the galvanization process Kelly hoped to hatch following the program’s weekend of discontent.

“Clearly they’re going to be great leaders,” Kelly said of the group who found out Sunday of their captainships. “We’re a little bit of a work-in-progress right now, but we’ve got the right people in the right positions. Our time together over the last three days has been well spent. I like where we’re going.”

Which he hopes is away from the six player arrests late Friday night/early Saturday morning in two separate incidents and with full focus toward the Sept. 4 season opener at Texas.

The aftermath of the arrests to this point has been the dismissal of starting free safety Max Redfield, the indefinite suspension of injured backup cornerback Devin Butler and a little bit of limbo for the other four — running back Dexter Williams, linebacker Te’von Coney, cornerback Ashton White and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson — and mostly praise for Kelly from the national media for getting his fingerprints on this before the school’s disciplinary arm got involved.

And the Office of Community Standards will get involved.

But for the captains, it wasn’t just about the team moving forward, it was about helping Butler and Redfield do so as well. Onwualu and Rochell both said they reached out to the fellow seniors.

“Briefly,” Rochell said. “But I don’t want to overwhelm them. They have real-life stuff that they need to deal with.

“I would just want to tell them, ‘We’ve been doing this together for four years. I love you. I don’t see you any different. Everybody makes mistakes. Keep moving forward. Don’t let this, by choice, alter your life.’ ”

The day captains are named is typically filled with great back stories about the process and what it means to those players. Kelly took one question along those lines Wednesday before it moved into inquiries aimed at trying to piece together the post-arrest big picture.

Here are the aspects revealed Wednesday that matter most:

• Kelly said White, Coney, Williams and Stepherson have all been practicing with the team since workouts resumed Monday and all four will be available to play against Texas, provided the Office of Community Standards doesn’t see otherwise.

Those four and Redfield all were arrested in Fulton County in Northern Indiana on suspicion of marijuana possession. Williams, Stepherson and Redfield also face a preliminary charge of possession of a handgun without a license. No formal charges have been filed, however.

“I’ve dealt with it internally,” Kelly said. “They’ve been handled within the program, and the rest will be about what the university does. Those matters are out of my hands.”

• Punishments adjudicated by Kelly and/or the Office of Community Standards may look uneven or unfair on the surface and may not match up with consequences that have been exacted in the past, and with good reason.

There are other factors taken into account, such as prior infractions and sincere contrition. The latter is subjective, but shouldn’t be ignored. There’s a big difference between a player who regrets his actions and one who regrets getting caught.

As far as priors, the public doesn’t always know what a player’s discipline record looks like, so to assume a one-size-fits-all solution should be doled out is naïve.

As far as comparing past punishments, what was previously known as the Office of Residence Life began undergoing significant philosophical and personnel changes in Kelly’s first season on campus. So what warranted a semester suspension in the Charlie Weis Era, for instance, may have a completely different outcome now.

• Kelly doesn’t have plans at this time to either flip offensive players to safety or borrow from his cornerback corps to deepen the ranks.

Four of the seven safeties — and most of them are strong safeties by skill set — are true freshmen. That includes the one who will step in for Redfield at free safety and start against Texas and likely beyond, Devin Studstill.

“Devin is a kid that has a lot of talent,” Kelly said of the early enrollee who leapfrogged Redfield in the spring but was running No. 2 when the senior was dismissed. “He’s a very confident player. But we’ll all be kind of looking at it like you will be.

“He had a pretty good spring game. He’s got some experience now going through the spring, but I think we’ll have to play a few guys at that position. I don’t think he’s going to go out and take every snap.”

• Though Butler has been formally charged with two felonies — resisting arrest and battery of a police officer — since Kelly handed down his punishment, the cornerback’s status hasn’t changed. The Office of Community Standards may see it differently.

Per the Du Lac student handbook, "If a student is charged with a felony, the University reserves the right to take summary action and temporarily dismiss the student. Similarly, the University may take summary action to temporarily or permanently dismiss any student convicted of a felony."

Keep in mind, Butler’s charges could be reduced to misdemeanors or dropped all together in the future.

• Kelly said he has not spoken to Redfield about his next move, but the one that makes the most sense is to stay in school, get his degree in December, then use the grad transfer rule to re-establish himself at another program in the spring and play out his final season of eligibility in 2017.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame defensive end Isaac Rochell was named a captain in front of his teammates on Wednesday, August 24. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)