Notre Dame football looks to future at awards show
SOUTH BEND — They came together to put a period on the season.
But the Echoes ’16 awards show/hors d’oeuvres-fest for the Notre Dame Football team Friday night was dripping with overtones about the future, not the least of which was the unveiling of the program’s 2017 captains.
That’s nine months earlier than last season, an admitted miscalculation head coach Brian Kelly wanted to rectify by identifying and pushing his leaders out heading into the offseason, not coming out of it.
The inclusion of junior quarterback DeShone Kizer in the group of seven — count ’em seven — captains does not ensure his return to the Irish roster and deferring of the NFL Draft until at least the spring of 2018. It is conditional.
“Sooner rather than later,” the projected first-round draft choice said of timetable for his NFL-or-not impending decision.
Even if Kizer does wade into the NFL Draft pool, the contingent of permanent captains will stand as the largest in school history. It will also be the first one to include an active walk-on, junior wide receiver Austin Webster.
The others in a group charged with helping wash away the aftertaste of a 4-8 season are junior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martin, junior safety Drue Tranquill, offensive guard Quenton Nelson and senior offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey — the latter the 22nd two-time captain in school history.
“I think it’s just about direction and knowing where your team’s going and allowing those guys to establish a culture, to establish effective captainship,” said Tranquill, named Friday as the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year award winner.
“I mean, you look at our guys last year, and they got notice a week before the season started. I don’t think leadership is given by title or position. But I think it’s going to be nice to have our guys in place and just have our foundation and build upon that heading into this offseason.”
Like Kizer, Morgan, Nelson and McGlinchey had petitioned the NFL Draft Advisory Board for feedback. Kizer said he expected to hear from the board very soon.
He did hear his named called Friday night at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts as the team 2016 MVP.
The future also was served by the four uncommitted recruiting prospects in the audience at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, which gave the event a retro feel.
Years ago, the Echoes’ forerunner — the annual banquet — was a pivotal staple on the recruiting calendar. It is again this weekend in 2016, as four standout prospects are taking official visits with a large contingent of ND’s committed recruits also on campus to help with the push.
Defensive end Joshua Paschal, multi-position prospect Greg Johnson, and wide receivers Jamire Calvin and Oliver Martin were the four Kelly hopes to eventually land in what is now an 18-man class.
The day started in a positive direction along those lines, when Kelly won a recruiting tug-of-war with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh for four-star offensive tackle prospect Aaron Banks, a Californian who will enroll in January.
Meanwhile, the team has started its postseason lifting and Kelly puts the hiring of his next defensive coordinator on the front burner with the NCAA’s mandated recruiting dead period kicking in on Monday.
“Whoever’s our defensive coordinator, that’s out of our control,” Tranquill said. “So we’re going to focus on what we can control. That’s getting in the weight room. That’s getting the freshmen to be more bought in.
“That’s getting every guy to know that they matter and add value to our team. It’s forming relationships on a day-to-day basis and becoming a closer family.”
Most Valuable Player – DeShone Kizer; Offensive Player of the Year – Equanimeous St. Brown; Defensive Player of the Year – James Onwualu; Next Man In – Greer Martini; Newcomer of the Year: Offense – Alex Bars; Newcomer of the Year: Defense – Nyles Morgan; Special Teams Player of the Year – Scott Daly; Offensive Lineman of the Year – Quenton Nelson; Impact Player -- Jarron Jones.
Irish Around the Bend – Tyler Newsome; Moose Krause Lineman of the Year – Isaac Rochell; Father Lange Iron Cross – Mark Harrell; Pietrosante Award – Cole Luke; Rockne Student-Athlete – Drue Tranquill; Scout Team Player of the Year: Offense – Ben Suttman; Scout Team Player of the Year: Defense – Jonathan Jones