Building a Case for Cam McDaniel

Cam McDaniel - Notre Dame RB
Cam McDaniel (33) reacts to scoring a touchdown against the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame junior running back Cam McDaniel is a multifaceted man.  The general public knows him as the guy from the “ridiculously photogenic” Internet meme whose serene disposition and Derek Zoolander-esque pose landed him national recognition and an interview on NBC’s Today show.  Residents of his native Coppell, Texas, know him as the low-profile high school recruit who inconspicuously accrued 37 touchdowns as a senior, leading all Dallas-area high school players in scoring.  Notre Dame fans know him as the reliable supplement to starting running back George Atkinson III.

The time has come for yet another layer to be mixed into his malleable nature: Cam McDaniel, starting running for the University of Notre Dame.

The humble McDaniel, whose willingness to help his team is so considerable that at one point it resulted in a brief position switch to Notre Dame’s secondary, would never engage in such self-promotion.  No, the modest and self-effacing Texas native would need a boisterous and unabashed jabberer to pick up the mantel and plead his case for him.

Nice to meet you, Cam.  My name is Scott.

What’s a guy gotta do around here to be named the starting running back? 

Not only is Cam ND’s most dependable running back, he literally looks good while doing it.  Just look at that photo of him with his helmet knocked off against USC.  My fiancée told me she heard angels sing when she saw the picture of McDaniel’s All-American mug (and I’ll have to take her word for it – angels won’t be presenting themselves to me anytime soon).

What’s the hold up?

It can’t be statistics.  Yes, George Atkinson has a higher yards per carry mark than McDaniel but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  During Notre Dame’s current three-game winning streak – in which they’ve played their best football all season – McDaniel has been the one Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly trusts to get the job done, and for good reason.

Deep into the 2nd half as Arizona State rallied and threatened to swipe victory from Notre Dame’s grasp, it was McDaniel who burned crucial minutes off the clock.  Arizona State head coach Todd Graham became so concerned with his inability to stop McDaniel’s rushing prowess that he elected to take his chances and go for it on 4th and 13 from his own 22-yard line.  Cam sealed the Sun Devils’ fate with 61 yards on 9 rushing attempts (6.8 yards per carry) on two drives that led to 6 critical points.

The process was repeated against USC when McDaniel channeled his inner-video game and juked two Trojan defenders out of their shoes on a 36-yard scoot that ultimately set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Irish wide receiver T.J. Jones, giving Notre Dame a lead they would never relinquish.  And this past Saturday against Air Force Cam was at it again.  Forcing Air Force to fumble to begin the second half, Notre Dame possessed a 24-10 lead and an opportunity to force the Falcons into abandoning their rushing attack should the Fighting Irish score another touchdown.  Brian Kelly rushed McDaniel four consecutive times for 30 yards (7.5 yards per carry), setting up a30-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Jones.

So if it isn’t production, what could it be?  Is it the talent profile?

Current starting running back George Atkinson III definitely has the genetic x-factor being the son of a former bone-crushing Oakland Raiders legend.  At 6’2” and 220 pounds – and possessing the agility of a leopard – Atkinson held major BCS offers ranging from Alabama to USC coming out of high school.  It’s no surprise Kelly has given Atkinson the starting nod over McDaniel – whose high school offer sheet was littered with service academies – in the hopes a watershed moment would finally arrive and Atkinson’s full potential would be realized.

But at what point does production surpass potential?

Air Force serves as the perfect comparison.  Notre Dame drove 46 yards to the Air Force 23-yard line on the first drive of the game and faced a critical 3rd and 1.  Starting quarterback Tommy Rees handed the ball to Atkinson and, seeing the intended gap occupied by a defender, George attempted to bounce to the outside instead of squaring his shoulders, getting low and driving the pile against a small-statured defense.  The result was a one-yard loss that would lead to a blocked field goal attempt, and ultimately Air Force taking a 7-0 lead.  Starting fast is paramount in defeating the option, and Atkinson’s choice to bounce outside instead of fighting for the first down – which has been a source of criticism for him in the past – was a momentum swing that gave Air Force an early lead.

Both Atkinson and McDaniel were involved in game-changing drives against Air Force, but only one cemented a victory for Notre Dame.

The time has come for McDaniel to be named the starting running back at Notre Dame.  After all, just try to look into those dreamy eyes and tell him no.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. If you have a great Defense a little Cam goes a long way!
    Kid had 45 carries in one high school game, not including punt and kick-off returns.
    Watched his High School Career and follow his work at ND.
    Real Texans follow HORNs and Cowboys and remember Joe Montana too well to be ND backers, that said I seldom miss a ND telecast since Cam arrived.
    No size , No speed? Somebody forgot to tell Cam, Oh? they told him? On, and on and on, he goes.
    Earning ever opportunity, every yard and TD, no luck involved.
    Now you know, “Luck of the Irish” wears number 33.

    1. Jack I was able to watch every touchdown Cam made in HS from the sidelines. UNBELIEVABLE. In the highlight video we were playing against some of the toughest competition in the State of Texas…the highest level of football in the Nation. The play that starts at 6:10 is amazing because whet you cannot see is that was the 14th consecutive carry by Cam on that drive, and he still had not lost an ounce of energy and burst. Love the kid to death.

      1. Pat:

        Are you a Notre Dame fan or did you just happen across this article while living in Texas? Either way, welcome!

        ND landed a great player in Cam. He’s the kind of guy that just personifies football. Definitely a lot of fun to watch.

  2. One of the most interesting/fun HS videos to watch is Cam’s. Look it up. I heartily recommend a viewing. He will continue to be a valuable contributor.I would like to see him used in the short passing game or returns.

  3. It appears to me Cam is the only true running back (not counting the freshmen). GA III & Amir are fast, but don’t seem to have the running back vision of Cam.

  4. When Bob Davie was fired the microscope was on Notre Dame as the race industry hustlers like “Rev” Sharpton/Jackson were out in full force demanding ND hire an African American coach. Around the same time pundits began to look at the MLB and notice a “disturbing trend” regarding the decline of black major league baseball players and in particular pitchers which resulted in an ESPN feature on the R.B.I (Reviving Baseball in the Inner City) episode. The lack, or former lack thereof, of black QBs has been well documented in numerous television shows and studies have been commissioned. However, no one seemed to address why there has been a lack of white RB’s. The “Revs” aren’t in front of the camera asking when the last time was a white kid got to start at CB or RB for ND or any other team for that matter. Im 35 years old and until this year have never seen it. If, as in the case of some pundits regarding head coaching opportunities with other minorities, you came up with the excuse that they simply weren’t good enough, you would be raked over the coals so the only logical explanation is they are phased out, and if the shoe is on the other foot there’s no way the media stands for it.

    Its 2013 and here we have Cam McDaniel, the first white kid in my 35 years, with the chance to be the full time RB at ND. If he wasn’t white, it probably wouldn’t be an issue (especially regarding his “athleticism”). I want the most QUALIFIED person to be the starter, regardless or race. A SMALL part of why I like him is because I can “relate” to him because of his complexion. Nothing wrong with that as time after time we see this brought up when poor misunderstood urban youths also need “heroes” and “roll models.” If its not wrong in those cases its not wrong here. I think Cam deserves the nod, regardless of whatever color he is and in a small way we do need the “discussion on race” that Obama suggested, but not a one way conversation where one group is lectured to.

    It is perplexing how the white RB has virtually vanished, with the recent exceptions of Peyton Hillis (who, while he hasn’t been effective lately, had to be passed over numerous times before he finally got a chance to play and subsequently go over 1K yards in an NFL season) and Toby Gerhart (who really hasn’t gotten a chance but he’s sitting behind AP). I’ve already failed on not going on a huge rant here but the only point im trying to make about Cam, is that the “media” and “talking heads” cant have it both ways when they want to look at certain positions and certain sports and certain races. Again, I want ND to win and I don’t care who coaches or who plays, as long as they are the BEST and judged SOLELY on their ability. Cams position however is a rare opportunity to address some of the underlying issues in sports, just not in the way we are always forced to. Run Cam Run, and whoever else is back there to get the ball.

    1. you swung and missed, Chi-Town Copper.

      PSSTT! Why did Notre Dame hire George O’Leary as its head coach, who later hoist himself on the petard of his
      own fraudulent resume.

      Further, can you list the names of the folks who
      were offered the job before
      that liar O’Leary?

      Further, explaind these names:
      Mark Edwards, Joey Goodspeed
      Nate Schiccatano.

      1. Im pretty sure Godspeed and Edwards were full backs. I guess I could have counted Steven Yura or that o’neill kid who sometimes got garbage time at RB. Cam is really the first to get a chance to be a full time RB and starter. I’m fully aware of the oleary scandal and that Willingham was low on the list after they were left with not many better options. Doesn’t change the fact that Jesse and Al got into the mix

      2. Strike two. Edwards played a lot of tailback which kind of BLOWS UP your 35 year falsehood.

        Steven Yura, eh? Guess you just enjoy making things up!

  5. I like the way the kid plays too. He runs hard and has miles of heart. These are the kinds of guys you need on your team, especially when you have one yard to get to ice the game. You know he is going to give it everything he’s got to get that yard, even if that means busting your head open. I love it!!

    But this guy should not be a featured back in my opinion. I’ll agree with the article that Cam should be the starting RB right now because that is the best we have right now, which is sad. Folston isn’t going to be given a chance because Kelly doesn’t like throwing young guys out there too early which I think is crap but whatever.

    Please keep in mind this same guy, who Kelly trusts the most, fumbled very late in the game against USC giving them ridiculous field position for a go ahead TD opportunity which they blew.

    Scott, would you still be writing this same article if ND would have lost that game because of Cam’s huge fumble loss?

    1. I would. Cam is one of the most fundamentally sound and consistent players you’ll ever see. He’s done far more right than wrong by a long shot. He’s earned the right to be the starter.

      You focused on the fumble he had against USC (and that’s the only fumble I can recall from him). I focused on that 36-yard run where he juked two USC defenders. In addition to a beautiful move, he switched the ball to his left arm and protected it as he was hit out of bounds. I cannot recall the last time I’ve seen a skill player, college or pro, shift the ball to protect it. His fundamentals are as perfect as I’ve ever seen, especially in an area where it seems everybody runs with the ball loose.

      There are more talented guys on the team but until Atkinson puts it all together, and until Folston and Bryant are ready to go, McDaniel should be the guy.

    2. Chris,

      Kelly doesn’t like putting young players out there???? I guess Jaylon Smith, Steve Elmer, Corey Robinson and Fuller are seasoned veterans.

      Lets also remember Freshman that have logged time under BK: Lynch, Tuitt, Russell, T.J Jones, Tommy Rees, Sheldon Day, Roschell this year, Troy Niklaus as an OLB just to name a few. You can say many things bad about Kelly but playing Freshman that deserve to play is not one of them.

      The only time ND has any consistancy in it’s running game is when they go to Cam. Look at every long drive this year that features running, it’s Cam as the back. He runs to the hole, he doesn’t tip toe, tap dance and try to break everything outside. He gets you at least 3 yds most of the time.

      I do think that Folston has the potential to be Cam with more atheletic ability, but Carlise and Atkinson feast or famine with the run. Cam reads the blocks better and gets positive yardage.

      1. C’mon Jack, don’t let the facts get in the way of bonehead opinions. If you say it enough times it start to sound true.

        How about this, BK doesn’t like to play Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors or seniors. Only red shirt juniors with a minor in political science who were born in months that have a R in them.

      2. Jack,

        I couldn’t find any stats on playing time but it’s pretty clear that Fuller, Robinson, and Folston all have not received anywhere near the playing time they deserve, in my opinion. I’m not upset with Kelly and his rotation, I just feel these kids need more opportunities when it matters because they are really good. I know that Fuller and Robinson have to contend with Daniels and Jones for playing time, but to me, these two are just as good from what I have seen so far. It’s the fact they are young and Kelly has veterans out there already who have ‘proven’ themselves. Folston has 1/4 the carries Cam has, with a higher avg per carry and the same long run yard total. But he isn’t going to get the same share of carries?? Everyone sees the potential so why not play him? It just seems to me that Kelly likes playing the guys with experience sometimes rather than the guys who are raw, but could be straight up studs if turned loose. I guess we’ll never find out.

      3. @ChrisJ

        There’s more to the running back position than the name suggests. You have to learn the playbook and the protections all while getting acclimated to college (at Notre Dame, no less). It’s a process and a lot to take in.

        Brian Kelly is no fool. He’s going to play the best players and those he feels are going to help him win, and win right now. And that’s been proven many times over by how many freshmen and underclassmen have not only played but started since his arrival in South Bend.

        You have to keep in mind that we see ND in action 11-12 times per year. That’s a very slim percentage overall. The real story is being told at practice, something we don’t have access to.

        What you need to glean from Folston and the other freshmen you mentioned is that they are extremely talented and have very bright futures ahead of them.

      4. Scott, I agree with you. And no I won’t channel my inner Allen Iverson. Just wish we’d see some more PT for these guys. The future is bright and next year’s offense should be amazing if Golson returns or Zaire is as good. Looking forward to it.

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