Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – Yesterday we took a look at eight players facing now or never type seasons for Notre Dame in 2011. A couple of the names were were familiar faces from the 2010 set of “Now or Never” players we profiled last August. Today we’ll take a look at how those players fared a season ago.
Our 2010 list of now or never players started off with senior running back Robert Hughes. The big back from Chicago burst onto the scene as a freshman displaying power, balance, and excellent vision as a starter at the end of the season. Hughes had back to back 100 yard games to end that 2007 season. Unfortunately, he would only have one more his entire career and none in 2010. Hughes was relegated to mainly third string duties behind Armando Allen and Cierre Wood throughout most of 2010 and only ended up seeing double digit carries in two games.
Despite a fairly lack luster senior campaign on the whole, Hughes turned in an iconic performance in the season finale against USC and scored one of the most memorable touchdown for the Irish in years against the Trojans. With Notre Dame trailing late in the fourth quarter, Brian Kelly took the ball out his freshman quarterback’s hand and put it into the hands of his senior tailback.
Hughes might not have been the bruising back many envisioned he would be throughout his career, but for one drive, he was that back. Hughes ran over and through the USC defense on his way to the end zone while scoring the go ahead touchdown to snap USC’s eight game winning streak over Notre Dame. It was a story book ending to a career that never quite lived up to the hype. For many Notre Dame fans though, that touchdown against USC was well worth the wait.
Duval Kamara was another freshman who showed a lot of promise in 2007. Before Michael Floyd came in and rewrote the freshman record book for Notre Dame a year later, Kamara broke several Irish freshman records in an otherwise horrible season for the Notre Dame offense. Just like Hughes, Kamara could never quite recapture that freshman year magic other than for one moment of glory as a senior.
On the heels of back to back losses to Navy and Tulsa, Notre Dame limped into it’s home finale against #14 Utah with true freshman Tommy Rees making his first career start. Heading into his last home game in a Notre Dame uniform Kamara had accumulated just seven catches total in his senior campaign. In Notre Dame’s upset of the Utes Kamara would only record another two. Both catches, however, went for scores as Notre Dame routed Utah 28-3. Kamara’s career didn’t end with that high note though. The once promising receiver ended up not traveling with the team to El Paso for the Sun Bowl.
I compared Kamara’s career path to former Irish standout Maurice Stovall last summer. Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, Kamara wasn’t able to have the breakout performance Stovall did in his senior year in 2005.
Our next now or never player is actually a repeat this year. Mike Ragone’s up and down career received a life line when he was invited back for a fifth season in South Bend in 2011. As a senior in 2010 though, Ragone did not do much to revitalize a once promising career with just three catches on the season for a mere 32 yards. Ragone will have one more season to show why he was so highly coveted out of high school a little over four years ago.
Deion Walker is another repeat this year after turning in a disappointing junior year last season. Walker did not record a single catch last year and was passed on the depth chart by then freshman TJ Jones and sophomore Robby Toma. Walker received some praise from Brian Kelly in the spring, but with talented youngsters like sophomore Daniel Smith and incoming freshman DaVaris Daniels fighting for playing time, Walker is going to have his hands full. If the light turns on for Walker he’ll have a chance to breathe some life into his college career. If it doesn’t, he’ll likely be buried on the depth chart again this year.
Rounding out last year’s now or never players on the offensive side of the ball we come across the biggest success story of the group. Matt Romine and Taylor Dever both entered their true senior seasons looking to secure a starting spot for the first time in their careers. Dever ended up locking down the starting right tackle position and was very solid in his first year on the job – solid enough to be invited back for a fifth season in 2011. Romine, however, was never able to crack the lineup and the former four star recruit will be spending his final season of eligibility playing for Tulsa.
Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, both of our 2010 now or never players ended up being regular starters for the Irish defense and both had varying degrees of success. Kerry Neal ended up starting 12 out of 13 games a season ago, but he still didn’t have quite the season most were hoping for. Neal had a career high in tackles but still was only able to tally 42 stops and only recorded 1.5 sacks. Overall he didn’t have a bad season, but when Notre Dame moved back to a 3-4 defense many envisioned Neal flashing some of the promise we saw as a true freshman in 2007. Multiple positions switches throughout his career due to the yearly change in defensive philosophy really derailed what could have been a very solid career for Neal.
Darrin Walls had an up and down career at Notre Dame that saw him leave school for a year for “personal reasons” at one point. Walls rebounded nicely and started 13 games last year and turned in the best season of his career with 41 tackles and a career high three interceptions. Over his first two seasons Walls had just two interceptions total. He might not have been the lock down corner we all thought he would be after seeing him be thrown to the wolves in his first career game when he lined up one on one with Calvin Johnson, but Walls turned in a pretty good senior campaign and showed a lot of improvement in his only season coached by defensive backs coach Chuck Martin.
So when we look at last year’s group of now or never players as a group, there wasn’t an overwhelming amount lot of success. Dever, Neal, and Walls became starters for the Irish, but Hughes, Romine, Walker, Ragone, and Kamara had limited roles in 2010 even though Hughes and Kamara certainly delivered a couple memorable moments. Three out eight might not seem like a high success rate, but if Notre Dame can have three out of the eight players on this year’s now or never list become regular starters the Irish will be in pretty good shape – especially if those three are Dayne Crist, Jonas Gray, and Robert Blanton.