A rare bottom line: OG Quenton Nelson named Notre Dame football MVP

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — To facilitate Quenton Nelson’s run for the Outland Trophy, Notre Dame scraped together and concocted some statistics to try to quantify his level of excellence.

Leave it to the 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior’s peers to one-up the P.R. machine.

By a vote of the Irish football players, the offensive guard from Holmdel, N.J., on Friday night became just the third offensive lineman in 97 seasons of ND postseason awards to take home the team’s MVP trophy.

The Echoes 2017 awards show — a tighter/slicker/rubber-chicken-free upgrade from the old football banquets — was held at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on the campus of Notre Dame and emceed by former ND All-America fullback Jerome Bettis.

Offensive guard Al Wujciak, 42 years ago, was the last ND offensive lineman to be named his team’s MVP.

“He's played, obviously, off the charts in terms of how we're grading him,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said earlier this season of Nelson, who was edged out for the Outland Thursday night by Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver. “But there was a glimpse to that potential in the way he trained in this offseason.

“He was so far out in front of everybody in terms of the way he trained this year — running, in the weight room, everything that we did.”

Among those in attendance Friday night were four uncommitted 2018 recruiting prospects, with the new 72-hour early signing window less than two weeks away.

Cornerback Kyler Gordon, offensive lineman Luke Jones, defensive end Malik Langham and wide receiver Braden Lenzy were joined by nine of the 18 players who are currently verbally committed to the Irish.

Senior rover Drue Tranquill provided the bombshell of the night, announcing he will be returning to ND for his fifth year in 2018. Tranquill, winner of the Rockne Student-Athlete Award Friday night, was one of ND’s most improved players in 2017 and its third-leading tackler (74).

The former strong safety ranks among the nation’s leaders in fumble recoveries (3). He is second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. He also has a sack, a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and an interception.

Senior reserve tight end Nic Weishar, honored Friday night for his community service (Irish Around The Bend award), also said he’ll be back in 2018 as a grad senior.

Among the other award winners Friday night were junior running back Josh Adams and senior linebacker Nyles Morgan, named offensive and defensive MVP, respectively.

Morgan is Notre Dame’s second-leading tackler, with 83. He has 6.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and six quarterback hurries.

Adams, with 1,386 rushing yards going into the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl matchup between No. 14 ND (9-3) and No. 16 LSU (9-3), is 52 yards away from leapfrogging Vagas Ferguson (1979) for the most prolific rushing season in school history. And he said Friday he would definitely be playing in that game and that there was never a thought otherwise.

But the nation’s No. 16 rusher said he is undecided about returning for his senior season. The same goes for junior linebacker Te’von Coney, ND’s leading tackler this season and the winner of the Impact Player award on Friday night.

Meanwhile, Newcomers, yes newcomers, of the Year were a junior — quarterback Brandon Wimbush — and senior — defensive tackle Jonathon Bonner.

Nelson, who definitely won’t be back for a fifth year at ND, could end up as a unanimous All-American, having already being named to the Walter Camp first team. That’s one of the five requisite teams that count toward consensus and unanimous All-America honors.

The others are — yet to be announced — AP, FWAA, Sporting News and AFCA.

“If I knew I’d be in the same position next year regarding injury, I’d definitely come back,” Nelson said of his decision to enter the 2018 NFL Draft after turning away that option last winter to come back and be a team captain.

“I think I’m ready for the next level. I’m just thankful to all of my teammates, especially the guys on the offensive line, and (O-Line) coach (Harry) Hiestand for developing me into the player I am today.

“He’s helped me grow so much as a man, as a player. And I’m forever grateful for him. He’s the reason why I’ve received all the accolades I have.”

Nelson, projected as a first-round draft pick in April, ranks as the highest-rated college offensive lineman in the country by Pro Football Focus (48.1), has not surrendered a sack or QB hit, and allowed just two QB hurries in 819 offensive snaps this season.

Over his career as a three-year starter (2,336 snaps), Nelson has surrendered two sacks, none in the last two years, and two quarterback hits.

On Friday night, he showed off another skill set — his sense of humor.

“These are the best guys in the country,” he told the audience after receiving the MVP award, “especially the offensive linemen. I’ve cherished the memories and the relationships I’ve made … with Jimmy Byrne, Sam Mustipher, Alex’s sister.”

The would be offensive guard Alex Bars’ sister, Lauren, Nelson’s girlfriend and a volleyball player at Ole Miss.

Nelson had high praise for Kelly and the changes he made in himself and the program. And Kelly returned the commendation.

“He was unwavering in his commitment to Notre Dame and he held everyone to that standard,” the Irish coach said. “And that’s why we are where we are today.”

NOTRE DAME AWARD WINNERS

Most Valuable Player: Quenton Nelson

Offensive Player of the Year: Josh Adams

Defensive Player of the Year: Nyles Morgan

Rockne Student-Athlete: Drue Tranquill

Next Man In: Andrew Trumbetti

Impact Player: Te’von Coney

Newcomer of the Year: Offense: Brandon Wimbush

Newcomer of the Year: Defense: Jonathan Bonner

Special Teams Player of the Year: Greer Martini

Offensive Lineman of the Year: Mike McGlinchey

Moose Krause Lineman of the Year: Jerry Tillery

Father Lange Iron Cross: Durham Smythe

Pietrosante Award: Austin Webster

Irish Around the Bend: Nic Weishar

Scout Team Player of the Year: Offense – Dillan Gibbons

Scout Team Player of the Year: Defense – Alohi Gilman

WOPU (Walk-on) Player of the Year: Robert Regan

Notre Dame senior offensive guard Quenton Nelson (56) was named Notre Dame football's 2017 MVP Friday night at the Echoes 2017 awards show. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)