Tonight is the annual Notre Dame Football banquet, otherwise known as the Echoes Awards Show. It’s the post-season banquet, people get dressed up, there is something of a red carpet, trophies or some such are given out. It’s a big to-do.
Prior to the season, I made some declarations (ok, just some predictions) as to who would win various categories of awards. It’s time to see how well I did after 12 games of action, and give out the totally official UHND awards following the season. These are the ones the players really care about, so let’s get into it.
Freshman Of The Year
Pre-season pick: Michael Young
Post-season winner: Robert Hainsey
Michael Young got some run early in the season, but no one contributed week in and week out like the freshman offensive lineman Robert Hainsey. He rotated every other series at right tackle with redshirt freshman Tommy Kraemer from game one to game twelve. Obviously, as part of an offensive line that finished 5th in the S&P+ rushing rankings, he more than held his own. There is some debate where he will play full time next season, but it’d be a stunner if he wasn’t starting somewhere. He had some trouble with penalties this season, mostly before the snap with false starts, but beyond that he performed admirably. Notre Dame has a good one for three more years.
Pre-season Pick: Andrew Trumbetti
Post-season Winner: Jerry Tillery
Tillery went from freshman whipping boy to a sophomore disappointment to one of the best players on the defense as a junior. For Notre Dame to be anything this season on defense, they needed a big performance from Tillery, and they got exactly that. Not only did he start all 12 games, but he produced numbers at nose tackle better than those turned in by the gold standard on the inside during the Kelly era, Louis Nix in 2012. Tillery registered more tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and quarterback hurries than Nix, with still a game. to play. Some may point out it was Nix’s job to take on blockers, sacrificing his own numbers, but I’d point out the top four tacklers on the 2017 team came from the linebacker position. Tillery took on his share of blockers, and still produced numbers.
Newcomer Of The Year
Pre-season Pick: Tony Jones Jr.
Post-season Winner: Shaun Crawford
Jones Jr. was never healthy and was never featured in the passing game the way I suspected. Crawford, while not new to the program, was finally able to make it through an entire season, and he made a big impact, especially early. He made huge plays at Boston College and at Michigan State, saving a touchdown against the Spartans and turning it into an Irish possession, which they converted into seven points of their own. A 21-14 Notre Dame lead turned into a 28-7 route and eventual 38-18 road victory. That game set the tone for what was to come in September and October, where Notre Dame dominated their opponents and rose to #3 in the polls. Much like the team itself, Crawford’s play tailed off a bit at the end, but there is no taking away what he did for the team in his first full season of game action.
Breakout Player Of The Year
Pre-season Pick: Daelin Hayes
Post-season Winner: Julian Love
Hayes was a good player and week to week contributor who should be proud of his season. Love was a borderline star. He led the team in interceptions with three (returning two for touchdowns, with the third returned inside the five), he was tied for 2nd nationally in passes defended, and 4th nationally in passes broken up. He was one of the most consistent players on the entire team, who even filled in at safety against Navy, where he registered 14 tackles. Chances are very good he’ll be a captain as a junior next season and an invaluable part of the team.
Pre-season Pick: Equanimeous St. Brown
Post-season Winner: Josh Adams
The St. Brown pick is pretty laughable three months later, but it’s probably better it was a running back, regardless of the reasons why. For most of the season, Adams was nothing short of spectacular. Through October, Adams had rushed for 1,169 yards on just 132 carries, and all nine of his touchdowns. All done while sitting out nine quarters due to various injuries and ailments. In the end, those ailments caught up to him, as he sputtered out in November and couldn’t keep up his rushing pace. Not to take away his excellence though, the highlight of his season were back to back performances against current #8 USC and #24 NC State when he rushed 46 times for 393 yards and four touchdowns. It ended poorly, but lets not forget why Notre Dame was what it was early this year. Adams was having an all-time season.
Pre-season Pick: Nyles Morgan
Post-season Winner: Te’Von Coney
Morgan was solid, Coney was phenomenal, even while splitting time early in the year. He lead the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and was second in sacks. He confidence grew and grew with each passing game, and his instincts began to take hold mid-way through the season. He made huge plays week in and week out, and dominated USC in the biggest game for Notre Dame on the season. He notched 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, and forced and recovered a Sam Darnold fumble on the first defensive play of the game that got the ball rolling for Notre Dame on their way to the best win of the Kelly era, a 35 point dismantling of the hated Trojans. I really wanted it to be Tranquill in this spot, but Coney was better.
Pre-season Pick: Brandon Wimbush
Post-season Winner: Quenton Nelson
His passing woes aside, Wimbush accounted for 30 touchdowns this season, which is no small thing. He didn’t pass it well, but he was a big part of why this team was so dangerous in September in October. That said, the single best player on this team has been Quenton Nelson, and this was true from the first snap till now. We don’t often think of lineman as superstars, they don’t do superstar type things, but Nelson is deserving of that distinction. According to Pro Football Focus, in 436 drop backs by Notre Dame quarterbacks this season, Nelson allowed a grand total of three quarterback hurries. That’s it, the end. No penalties, no hits, and certainly no sacks. He was as dominant in the pass game as he was in the run game, where he specializes in pancaking opponents and clearing out his side of the line. He’s a finalist for the Outland Trophy awarded to the best lineman in college football. I don’t know if he’ll win, but being in the final three is a distinction in itself. When he is gone after the bowl game, he will be badly missed.