Senior Day Story Lines

jonas gray michael floyd full
Michael Floyd and Jonas Gray are just two of Notre Dame's seniors who have had long paths from Signing Day to Senior Day for this year's senior's class. (Photo - Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

Saturday marks the last home game for a senior class that came to Notre Dame on the heels of the 3-9 season of 2007.  Baring a major late season surge in the rankings and a ton of luck, their careers will end without a BCS berth, but the class is not devoid of plenty of compelling story lines.

They came to Notre Dame despite seeing the results of the disastrous 2007 season – one of the worst in Notre Dame history – and have seen mixed results on the field.  By the end of their senior seasons though, many have become impact players for Notre Dame who will be sorely missed next season.

Jonas Gray’s meteoric rise. I can’t remember a Notre Dame senior who came out of no where to become an impact player like Gray has this season.  Not only has Gray rebounded from a rough start to his career, he has responded from a disastrous start to his senior year by becoming a bona fide playmaker in the Notre Dame offense.  Gray always had the talent to be an impact back, but it took him until his final season to put it all together and become the back everyone envisioned him being when the former 4-star recruit signed with Notre Dame.

Gray heads into senior day with 730 yards and 11 touchdowns including scores in each of the last seven games after no scoring a touchdown through the first three years and three games of his career.  With three games left (including a bowl game) Gray has a chance to top 1,000 yards – especially with a weak Boston College rush defense on tap this weekend.

Not too bad for a guy who carried the ball just 75 times for 309 yards through his first three seasons in South Bend.

Michael Floyd’s long journey. Michael Floyd has had a tumultuous career at Notre Dame both on and off the field.  Off the field, Floyd’s trials and tribulations have been well documented.  In fact last spring we didn’t even know if Floyd would be around this season to have a proper senior day.  On the field, Floyd has battled through various injuries throughout his career that have kept him from adding to his record breaking totals in each of his first three seasons.

Floyd’s senior season has been a different story both on and off the field for the star wide receiver.  Off the field, Floyd has become a model citizen and turned his life around after multiple alcohol related offenses that culminated in his off-season DUI arrest.  On the field, Floyd has stayed healthy throughout the season and is on pace to set career records in both receptions and yards.

It could be a long time before Notre Dame fans have another wide receiver to watch each week that will have Floyd’s ability to dominate a game so they better enjoy his final home game this weekend.

Harrison Smith’s development into a team leader. Like Gray, it took Smith a while before he found his comfort zone on the field, but unlike Gray, Smith has been on the field more often than not over the course of his career.  Under the Charlie Weis coaching staff, Smith bounced around from safety to linebacker and back to safety before finally settling in at safety last season under Brian Kelly.

When Kelly was hired he told the media that if Smith couldn’t play safety, he couldn’t play in this season.  Since then, Smith has developed into the leader of the Notre Dame defense and has positioned himself to be a fairly high draft pick in April.  Kelly spoke very glowingly of Smith this week and his presence will be missed next year.  For a player who was known more for bonehead instead of big plays through the first couple years of his career his transformation has been a lot of fun to watch.

Ethan Johnson’s tough season. Ethan Johnson’s senior senior hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.  Big things were expected from Johnson this year after he increased his sack total each of the past three seasons, but an ankle injury has nagged him most of the season causing him to miss five games and limiting him last week against Maryland.

Johnson came to Notre Dame with sky high expectations and while he didn’t quite live up to the 5-star status he came in with, Johnson has been a mainstay in the Notre Dame defense for four years and who knows what could have been this year for him had he not missed five games.  As is, Johnson enters his final home game without a single sack after picking up 5 last season and having 12 in his career.

Johnson has been a team leader and a role model for the young defensive line and it would be great to see Johnson go out on a high note by picking up a couple sacks against a shaky Boston College offensive line.

Robert Blanton and Darius Fleming’s last home games. Blanton and Fleming haven’t had any controversies or major injuries to overcome over the course of their careers, but both have been on the field from the beginning of their careers and have been consistent contributors to the Notre Dame defense over the past four seasons.

This season Blanton has been the most consistent performer on the Notre Dame defense and there might not be another player on the Irish roster that Notre Dame will miss more next season – and that includes Michael Floyd.  Blanton has shown excellent coverage skills this season and has been a sound tackler.   Think about how many times Robert Blanton has been burnt for big plays in the passing game….  Still thinking?  Yup, me too.

Fleming meanwhile has had a similar career path as Harrison Smith in that he bounced around multiple positions under the previous coaching regime before settling in at outside linebacker in Bob Diaco’s defense.  Fleming’s negative yardage plays may be down this year, but he is just four tackles away from tying his career record for tackles in a season.  Fleming also showed how much of a team player he is last week when he wore #46 for his close friend Steve Filer who suffered a ligament injury against Wake Forest costing him the rest of his senior season.

Is this Dayne Crist’s last game in Notre Dame Stadium? Crist came to Notre Dame as a 5-star quarterback on the heels of Notre Dame signing the #1 quarterback recruit in the country, Jimmy Clausen, the season before.  Crist’s career has not lived up to the lofty expectations in part because injuries derailed two seasons for him and this year has definitely not gone according to plan for him, but his contributions to the program shouldn’t be overlooked.

Crist was instrumental in holding together the recruiting class that makes up this year’s senior class – a class that was ranked #2 overall by – and he has been the consummate team player over the last four years.  Not many 22 year olds would have handled the way this season as went as well as Crist or would have been as classy in a very tough situation.  Crist has another year of eligibility, but whether or not he is invited back for a 5th year or even if he would come back if invited is really anyone’s guess.

It’s a shame that Crist’s career has panned out the way that it has, but if Saturday is indeed his last home game I hope Notre Dame fans are thankful for the contributions he did make during his career.

Several other major contributors over the last four years will be making their last appearances in Notre Dame Stadium this weekend as well.  David Ruffer walked on to the team a few years ago and has been the place kicker the past two seasons setting Notre Dame records along the way.  Trevor Robinson has been in the starting lineup along the Irish offensive line for almost his entire career.  Taylor Dever meanwhile secured a starting spot last year that he’s locked down for the past two seasons.

This class may not have returned Notre Dame all the way to elite status, but there are some signs that this year’s seniors have helped lay a solid foundation for Notre Dame to build future BCS berths off of.  They have also showed tremendous resolve throughout their careers and even within this season by rebounding from an 0-2 start to salvage the season by winning 7 of the last 8 games.   They also have a very good chance of leaving the program in much better shape than it was in when they got here and for that Notre Dame fans should be very appreciative.

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  1. As a heavy favorite vs BC – Crist should get a shot as starter today. It’s his last game – He has had some bad luck and has fit into BK’s system. Plus BK has his plan in place for QB.

  2. Crist-has integrity, team player, nice guy, some good physical tangibles, not a team leader, not having the intangibles, injury prone, and maybe not having all of the opportunities afforded to develop better into a Div 1 QB. Sometimes, these things happen to players all over the country, fair or not, it is what it is. I wish him well and maybe he transfers to a school running a pro style offensive scheme more suited to him.

    Clausen-never liked that little prick, especially how he came to ND in his fricking “limo” ride. You do something like that, you better be able to “cash the damn check” so-to-speak with results on the field of play. He didn’t do a great job at that, for sure.

    Go ND

  3. Great senior class no matter how you cut it. Crist is definitely a special person.

    I personally think Coach Kelly has worked hard to show Crist the respect he deserves his senior year while also moving the program ahead. In my view, recognizing Crist’s value and contributions by naming him this season starting quarterback and maintaining his #2 depth chart position all season, speaks volumes. Side note: I’ve NEVER understood the raves given Clausen (simply put, he’s not a winner) and fully expect Crist to surpass him down the road wherever he plays at the next level. Yes, plays.

    Would have loved to see Frank V spend another two or three paragraphs talking about the named seniors in his second to last paragraph (Ruffner, Robinson, and Dever) and the unnamed seniors that came to ND to play football, scrimmaged , contributed, and will be graduating this year or next.

    In closing, I sure hope Coach Kelly continues to protect the red-shirt status of as many of
    the Freshman class as possible. That will help build and solidify the great program now underway even quicker.

  4. Shaz,

    Speaking of Tim Tebow, what was up with him kissing (on the lips!) one of his receivers a few weeks ago featured on ESPN? I was shocked on that one?

    In regards to his team leadership at Florida, I agree with you he was the mojo leader for Urban. I also like his running ability that was key in producing two National Championships.

    Sorry if I sounded over defensive on Crist, and I probably am because I truely believe he got a raw deal and it certainly was not your fault. My apologies to you sir.

    1. JC,

      I hadn’t seen or heard anything about Tebow sharing any man love (thank god) with one of his wide receivers until now.

      What the hell is the world coming to!?

      (It probably happened when I was laid up with the flu a couple of weeks ago.
      I was already puking my guts up. If I saw that I’m sure I would have ended up with the terrible trots as well!)

      I agree with you on Crist getting a raw deal.

      Unfortunetly, when it comes to team sports its not a democracy. The players (or fans) don’t get to select the starting QB by popular vote.

      The mere fact that Kelly wins in November is enough to earn him bonus points in these parts.

      I think if there had been a true, established, leader on offense, say a WR, Runningback, or O-lineman, Crist might have remained the starter,and probably done well.
      But no one really stepped up at the beginning of the season, so it falls to the QB.

      I think a lot of players shy away from being the team leader.
      If you win you are a hero, but you better share the credit.
      If you lose you bear the brunt of the burden.
      If you are the team leader at ND and the team struggles,
      God help you, our fan base is nortoriously critical of your every move.
      Not an easy job for any 20yr old.

  5. These guys have been through a lot since joining the IRISH!!! hope threy can get it done against BC this saturday. Floyd is the best player to come out of ND in a while. Blanton is so underated i dont think there is another player who has been as clutch as he has been at times in his career darkhorse 3rd pick, Trevor Robinson has been starting since early in his freshman season and is a player who has adapted to the spread blocking wise. Show them the love this weekend who are attending this game they have been through a lot. Will be interesting to see who gets offered back for a 5th year.

  6. I agree with John1985 and Irisheye62 on Crist. In addition I believe BK only cares about the players he recruited! There is certainly a double standard pertaining to Crist. If Crist were allowed the same latitude as Rees, Crist would be still playing. So, Mr. pip-squeak coach has indeed created another year of not going to a BCS bowl period. Senior leadership is without question necessary to march into a BCS Bowl! Now and next year we will have to settle for a BS bowl because of favortism and stupidity. My hat is off to Dayne Crist for putting up with Brian Kelly. Brian Kelly doesn’t even have one tenth of the class that Dayne has. Anyone who bad mouths their players in the media is a vainglorious idiot beyond apologies.

    1. JC,

      When I think “College QB” I think Tim Tebow.

      He could run for sure, but wasn’t a very accomplished passer. (still isn’t)

      He made up for that with his leadership skills.
      Game after game I saw him push himself and his team-mates. He willed himself and his team to win.
      Every championship team needs someone like that.

      Lets remember that Crist was named the starter before the season ever began.

      At that moment he needed to step up as a senior and claim this team as his own and everything that goes along with it.

      He isn’t very vocal, and does not exhibate a lot of passion on the sidelines.
      That’s nothing agianst him, that just the personality that he has.

      I just think the team responds better to TR.
      I only see that on game day. The coaches see thoses things during the week, every week, so its hard to argue with Kelly’s decisions.

      Dayne Crist is a class act to be sure, but not everyone is born to lead. That’s just the way it is sometimes.

      If Kelly only cared about the players he recruited, Micheal Floyd would have never played this year.

      1. Shaz,

        One bad half of football for Crist does not make a whole season. Dayne deserves a second chance based on all the turnovers Rees is allowed.
        The offense only responds to Rees because what other choice do they have? How do you get vocal or show passion when your not starting as the winner of the QB derby? How do you justify not getting a second chance for winning the QB derby and all the body of work that represents.

        So based on BK’s logic do we fire BK after losing one game?? Hahahahahahahahahah!

        Hey, if everyone loves no BCS bowl this year and next for the sake of QB training wheels so be it! This is what we are paying millions of dollars for??

        Finally, if he cared so much about his upperclassmen he would have kept his comments out of the media which included his star receiver.

  7. They all may not have live up to every expectation, but without this senior class, ND football would be in the toilet. Aside from the Floyd incident, they’ve had little or no controversy. Despite all of the accolades about the freshman, espcially the d-lineman, we’d have a horrible offensive and defensive line without them. The freshman have stepped up on the d-line, but without Johnson, KLM and Cynar holding down the line for the first half, they’d have been thrown in over their heads. Finally, Dayne Crist has shown absolute class. Kelly screwed the kid up, down and sideway. (He was Kelly’s guy for 11 games. Kelly yanked him after a half. Kelly said the same standard would apply to Rees. That has not been the case, or Rees would have been yanked at half time against Pitt.) The kid has every right to raise his middle finger at his coach, but he has been nothing but a team player. I wish he’d been the starter all year long and was coming back next year for another run at the BCS. I know that neither will happen, and he won’t even be given the choice to come back for a 5th year. I hope he goes some place where he gets to play and show what he can do. If that happens to be a team that we play next year, I will, for the first, and probably, only time, root for another team to kick my alma mater’s butt. Kelly would deserve no less.

  8. Not to be a jerk, but why should I be thankful for the contributions of Dayne Crist? What has he done? Besides start the downhill slide against USF and fumble against USC to put the game out of reach? We can talk about 2010 as well and the Navy and Michigan games.

    The guy is the classic “choker.” He may be the most amazing human being to have ever worn an ND uniform, but he’s definitely not a good QB.

    1. If by jerk you mean unsupported opinion, you qualify. USF-if your receivers drop balls, you don’t get a lot of completions. He didn’t fumble on the one. He threw his only pick of the year. He had one bad play against USC, after going in cold, marching the team down the field, being pulled for Hendrix then throw back in. He played well against Michigan last year. Navy was his only bad game last year, but that can be said about the entire team. I’ve been accused of being mean spirited and demeaning when critizing Rees, but I’ve never used the word “choker”. Doesn’t apply for no other reason than you have to be given the opportunity to choke. Crist hasn’t been given the opportunity.

    2. Patrick:
      If memory serves me correct, IN THE USC gameCrist was taken out for one play EVEN THOUGH HE WAS IN RHYTHM AND GREAT MOMENTUM. The poor choice to take him out for one play and then to put him back in stopped him and the fumble occured. ( It wasn’t broken and we were moving -thanks coach for the bad call)
      Things were moving and the momentum STOPPED! Please-Crist hasn’t been “great” but he hasn’t been the thug and pompous moron that Clausen was off the field–and sometimes on the field. Afterwards on more than a few occasions, Clausen would shove the other guy in the chest after the congratulatory hand shake to the winner. Not exactly class on Clausen’s part. Then again, when a limo carries yo in to South Bend without ever throwing the first ball and making the first play, I wonder. We all do. Think of what Crist has had to deal with. It’s part of the cruel nature of sports and the spotlight and Crist has handled it well. Please Patrick –give the young man some applause. With the loss to Navy, the entire team was not spot on and we had it coming. Same with Michigan. Team—not just Crist. Great QB? No—Your commentary necessary? No. Indeed not. It is Senior Day. Let’s applaud them all. WE ARE # 1in Graduation rate–let’s keep this and play well and destroy Boston College!!! Thank you!

    3. Yeah I fail to see how Jonas Gray fumbling at the one and Riddick muffing the punt at ND’s 20 is Crist starting the downhill slide. His turnover hurt the Irish the least in that game as it was early on and didn’t directly give USF points. Also if TJ Jones doesnt drop the TD pass on the previous play who know how this season plays out.

      Benching Crist so early is really the only call of Kelly’s I flat out disagree with. Everything else I can see some logic too.

  9. I just can’t buy Harrison Smith as a “fairly high draft pick,” perhaps a free agent tryout. I do believe Jonas Gray will be a draft day steal; I’ve only seen maybe one of two backs this year that run better than him.

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