Notre Dame was fortunate over the weekend when Brian Kelly decided not to move on to the NFL even though the Philadelphia Eagles were interested in his services. On Monday the Irish were not as fortunate when senior running back Cierre Wood decided to test his luck at the next level and declare for the 2013 NFL Draft despite having an additional year of eligibility remaining.
Wood, a starter at times throughout his career, is not leaving early as some reports have suggested. Rather, Wood has decided not to come back for a 5th year at Notre Dame after spending the last four in South Bend and being on pace to graduate prior to April’s draft the same way Tyler Efiert decided to enter the draft with another year of eligibility.
It has been widely speculated for some time that Wood would forgo a final season at Notre Dame in favor of entering the draft, but up until Monday he had not made it official citing the best interests of his family as the reason for pursuing the NFL sooner rather than later.
The University released an official statement with quotes from Wood on his decision.
“Having to make a decision like whether to stay in school or leave to pursue a lifelong dream of playing in the NFL is never simple,” Wood said. “I had to weigh many factors over the last month, but ultimately it came down to what I felt was the right decision that would most benefit my family. With that in mind, I’m leaving Notre Dame and am entering my name for this year’s NFL Draft.
“There are so many people I need to thank that have helped get me to this point. My teammates are friends I know I’ll have the rest of my life. I’ll miss hanging out with them in the locker room and around campus. They are a great group of guys and are poised for success next year.
“I also want to thank all of the coaches, specifically Coach Kelly and Coach Alford. Coach Kelly has the program heading in the right direction and I’m happy to know he’ll remain our head coach in the future. Coach Alford has been so much more than a coach to me. He’s been a mentor and a role model. He’s helped turn me into the man I am today.
“Lastly, I want to thank the school, our fans and the extended Notre Dame family. The love and appreciation you’ve shown me in my four years can never be repaid. I’ll always remember the ovation I received as I ran out of the tunnel on senior day and I can’t thank you enough.”
Wood came to Notre Dame as a highly rated running back out of Oxnard, California selecting Notre Dame over local programs like USC, but redshirted during his freshman year in 2009. Wood burst onto the scene in 2010 though when Armando Allen was lost for the season due to injury by averaging 6.5 yards per carry on 114 carries and providing the homerun threat the Irish backfield had been lacking for years.
In 2011, Wood assumed the role of starting halfback in the Irish offense and responded in a big way with 1,102 yards on 217 yards with 9 touchdowns including a 191 yard outburst against Purdue.
Wood had a tough time getting out of the gates in 2012. His final season started with a two game suspension for violating team rules. Upon his return to the field, he did not return to the starting lineup, however, after Theo Riddick returned to halfback and secured the position. Despite playing a backup role, Wood still topped the 100 yard mark three times this year with 118 against Miami, 114 against BYU, and 150 against Wake Forest on Senior Day.
With Wood’s departure, Notre Dame will be losing its top two backs from 2012 since Theo Riddick is out of eligibility as well. Notre Dame will now head in 2013 without a whole lot of experienced depth at the running back position, but will have at least six different backs vying for playing time in the fall:
- George Atkinson III – Notre Dame’s home run threat in 2012, Atkinson will be the leading candidate to take over the #1 running back position although the speedy junior to be will need to prove that he can run between the tackles in order to take over Riddick’s starting role.
- Cam McDaniel – McDaniel saw some playing time in blowouts against Navy, Miami, and Wake Forest; but saw little playing time the rest of the season.
- Amir Carlisle – Carlisle missed the entire 2012 season after transferring from USC. Carlisle is a running back in the mold of Riddick – a back that is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and will battle with Atkinson for the top spot.
- Will Mahone – Mahone did not see the field as a true freshman, but is the most likely back to fill the role of power back next year. Mahone doesn’t have homerun speed, but could be the back that Brian Kelly goes to for the tough yards.
- Greg Bryant – Bryant is the highest rated running back to commit to Notre Dame in a long time and could seriously challenge the returning Notre Dame running backs for the starting role.
- Tarean Folston – Folston is a homerun threat like Atkinson and could see the field next year as well if he impresses in the fall. Like Wood though, he may need a season of hitting the weights before he is fully ready to see the field.