Vorel: Time to hand out our own Notre Dame football awards

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Awards season is upon us.

On Friday night, Notre Dame’s football brass will stuff themselves into suits, hand out a few awards and entertain some official visitors in the program’s annual Echoes awards banquet.

Those aren’t the awards I care about.

Those are all well and good, of course, but these are the real deal. No trophies. No fancy highlight packages. No dress code. No awkward acceptance speeches scribbled on crumpled-up pieces of paper. No stuffy ceremony set in a bedazzled ballroom and hosted by a seasoned emcee.

Just eight totally-made-up awards, courtesy of yours truly.

Welcome, dear friends, to another rousing rendition of the ND Insider Awards. Let’s all hope Kanye West doesn’t jump on stage and interfere with tonight’s proceedings.

Best Nickname: Quenton Nelson.

Near the end of fall camp, Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston revealed that, in his position room, Notre Dame’s 6-foot-5, 330-pound snow plow of a left guard is known as “The Human Lie Detector.”

Why’s that, you ask?

“Because if you think you’re pretty good, he’ll let you know if you’re right.”

But just how good is Nelson? Well, the senior captain finished the regular season rated as the top offensive lineman in the country by Pro Football Focus. On 436 pass-blocking snaps this season, he allowed just three pressures and zero sacks.

So, that good.

And this good:

we’ve all seen this play a million times by now but my god just do it again. The endzone copy is carnage

— Mike Golic Jr (@MGolicJR57) December 6, 2017

And this good:

No white tees in the club

— Mike Golic Jr (@MGolicJR57) December 6, 2017

And this good:


— Mike Golic Jr (@MGolicJR57) December 6, 2017

Best Celebration: Brian Kelly.

Sure, Knute Rockne’s “Today’s the day we’re going to win” speech was great, and the “Win one for The Gipper” monologue was fit for a feature film.

But this? This is a megaphone.

In the wake of Notre Dame’s 38-18 victory over Michigan State on Sept. 23, Kelly pulled his visor low over his eyes, perhaps so he didn’t have to see himself dance. He clutched a football in his left hand and uncorked an awkward jig, swiveling jaggedly from side to side as his players cheered and Post Malone’s “Congratulations” bumped over the loudspeakers.

After an assistant coach presented Notre Dame’s eighth-year head coach with the rivalry’s traveling trophy — a multi-colored megaphone — Kelly yanked it off the ground with gusto, then thought of just the right thing (read: the most literally accurate thing) to say.

“That’s a megaphone!” Kelly declared.

Why, yes. Yes it is.

Dancin' with the Megaphone!

Nothing like some moves from @CoachBrianKelly after @NDFootball win over

— The Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) September 24, 2017

Honorable Mention: Notre Dame's offensive line

Pure, unfiltered, unadulterated joy.

Oline touchdown celebrations are the best kind!

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) November 3, 2017

Best Stiff-Arm: Josh Adams.

Let me tell you about the time Josh Adams spiked a human being through the core of the Earth and right into outer space.

At least, that’s what I remember happening. That’s what it looked like from afar.

Notre Dame led Miami (Ohio) 14-7 on Sept. 30, and the 6-2, 225-pound junior took a hand-off, high-stepped through a pair of ankle tackles and cut back into the open field. Around the 18-yard-line, defensive back Deondre Daniels — bless his heart — decided to try and tackle him, which is like a toddler challenging a grizzly bear to a street fight.

It went about as well as you would expect.

With his left hand, Adams deposited Daniels, dribbling him like a basketball he was trying very hard to pop. He separated the defensive back’s soul from his body, then coasted into the end zone for his second touchdown of at least 59 yards.

(On a related note, Daniels finished with 35 tackles on the season, which must have been a very hard thing to do from space.)

Best No-Call: Jerry Tillery.

Jerry Tillery jumped. I saw it. You saw it. N.C. State’s offensive linemen, who refused to move even after the ball was snapped, sure saw it.

But did the junior nose guard actually jump off sides?

Not according to the referees.

The play in question came in the third quarter of Notre Dame’s 35-14 victory over N.C. State, as the Irish clutched onto a 21-14 lead. Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley — who had thrown 339 consecutive passes without an interception — took a snap and, believing he had a free play, flung an ill-conceived prayer in the general direction of … Julian Love?

Notre Dame’s sophomore cornerback intercepted it and followed a convoy of blockers untouched into the end zone. It was his second pick-six of his sophomore season.

But should it have been? That all depends on who you ask.

Notre Dame’s Julian Love (27) celebrates scoring during the Notre Dame at Michigan State NCAA football game Saturday, 23, 2017 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. Tribune Photo sequence/MICHAEL CATERINA

Best Punch: Shaun Crawford.

Shaun Crawford’s sneaky right hook flipped a touchdown into a turnover.

It landed flush on the football, midway through the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 38-18 victory over Michigan State. Trailing 21-7, Spartan running back L.J. Scott took a hand-off and made a beeline towards the goal line.

He didn’t get there with the ball.

Instead, Notre Dame’s junior cornerback connected with a closed fist at the 1-yard-line, dislodging Scott from the football and then proceeding to dive on it in the end zone.

It was, quite literally, a one-punch knockout.

Of course, Notre Dame capitalized with a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, effectively putting the game out of reach.

It should have been a Spartan touchdown … but one swing led to another.

Best Encounter: Greer Martini.

It’s easy to understand where Ken Niumatalolo was coming from.

After all, in Greer Martini’s four career games against Navy, the senior linebacker piled up 44 tackles — a team-high in all four games. In the 24-17 victory on Nov. 18, Martini’s final game inside Notre Dame Stadium, he finished with 15 tackles and defended Navy’s last-gasp fourth-down pass attempt that fell incomplete in the closing minutes.

As the teams met at midfield to shake hands, Niumatalolo — Navy’s 10th-year head coach — got the answer he so desperately sought.

Niumatalolo: “Are you graduating?”

Martini: “Yes, sir.”

Niumatalolo: “Thank God.”

For four years, the Midshipmen couldn’t block Martini. Now, at least, they’ll no longer need to.

Notre Dame’s Greer Martini (48) celebrates forcing a fumble during the Notre Dame at Michigan State NCAA football game Saturday, 23, 2017 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

Best Unnecessary Accessory: Nick Watkins' tiny towel

After a fall practice at Culver Academies, I asked senior cornerback Nick Watkins why he wears a towel so thin that it could serve no practical function.

His answer: "Swag."

Notre Dame’s Shaun Crawford (20) dances with Nick Watkins (7) during the Notre Dame at Boston College NCAA College football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

Best Meme: The Steve Jobs Mob

Notre Dame's student section celebrated Halloween a little ... differently.

My primary question: where — other than the back of Mike Brey's closet — can a person procure that many black mock turtlenecks in 2017?

Notre Dame Stadium's Steve Jobs Mob is really starting to freak me out.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) October 29, 2017


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (33) stiff arms Miami (Ohio)’s Deondre Daniels (15) during the Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame NCAA football game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA