20 seasons later, Notre Dame senior tailback and returning 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood will miss his team's first two games as well. This time per the decision of his head coach, who noted today at his weekly press conference that the decision to suspend Wood and teammate Justin Utupo for a violation of team rules was independent of the University's oft-referenced Office of Residence Life.
"This is strictly an independent decision that I made relative to the decisions those young men made," said Brian Kelly. "They violated the rules that our players know; rules that they know every single day about being in this program."
The unspecified rules violations will keep Wood and Utupo from crossing the Atlantic with their teammates, just as all-too-specific societal violations previously grounded suspended quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese for the program's much-anticipated game in Dublin vs. Navy.
The sum total of suspensions heading into opening week is six games missed by three former starters and a reserve (Utupo played sparingly from scrimmage last fall; he was a special teams regular). A logical question at today's media gathering included a reference to last year's star-run-afoul of the law, Michael Floyd, who did not miss a game for March 2011 DUI arrest, and what fans can expect from future rules violators.
"I weigh all the factors involved," said Kelly of discipline he's evoked over the last three seasons. "Each to me, are different circumstances. The ultimate goal is we want them all to turn out like the Michael Floyd situation where they make life decisions to change the way they are. (Floyd did not miss a game, but met a variety of Kelly-imposed demands during a spring and off-season suspension.)
"With any kind of sanctions we want better citizens. We want more accountable citizens. We want people representing our program in the right way," he continued. "There isn't a matrix and i just go down and say, 'Okay, that equals two (games).' And I'm not trying to be a wise guy about it, but it just takes a lot of time to put everything together to make those decisions."
Timetable UnclearThough Kelly did not specify when the violations occurred, its apparent a decision was pending long before news of the suspension broke. For fans, the timing of the suspension is relevant for a backfield with remaining players who've combined for just 31 rushes during Kelly's tenure at the school.
"I don't know that I worked on contingency plans," said Kelly. "We went out every day and practiced. When I made my decision to suspend Cierre and Justin Utupo, we then began to get more reps to other guys because (Wood) wasn't' going to be playing. But there wasn't a long period of time that we had a contingency plan, because I didn't know what I was going to do relative to the rules violations."
Asked when he became aware of the violation, Kelly deferred a timetable for rationale behind his decision.
"I don't want to get into specifics of time and place, because it probably wouldn't be accurate," he said. "The most important thing is, anytime I suspend someone from the football team, it's perceived as discipline, and I understand that. These are educational opportunities for me, so when we suspend somebody, I look at it like, 'How are we going to get this young man to live up to the standards that I have for our program?'
"In this instance, relative to his suspension, we want it to be educational, and we want them to come back better citizens, and better young men."
Wood sat out training camp's opening practice on August 4 for what Kelly deemed an issue regarding missing medical paperwork.
Moving Forward with ThreeThe clear-cut starter for the contest is Wood's classmate Theo Riddick, who came to the University as a running back recruit under former head coach Charlie Weis. Riddick tallied 29 rushing attempts as a true freshman in 2009, averaging 5.5 yards per carry while losing a fumble in his only start, the season finale at Stanford. He's since carried the ball 19 times, working primarily as a slot receiver where he secured 78 receptions and six touchdowns for Kelly's offense.
"Theo is a guy that has a lot of experience at the wide receiver position, so he's a guy that's extremely effective catching the football," said Kelly. "He's a guy that was bred for this position, if you call it a 'hybrid.' Running the ball is his first love, something he's accustomed too through high school and his first year here, and we cross-trained him. So he fits terrifically right now.
"George (Atkinson) is progressing every day. He was strictly a tailback in the I-formation (in high school), he was getting the ball seven yards deep (in the backfield). Now he's moving into different venues as a receiver. So he's continued to evolve in that position..
"Cam McDaniel is very familiar with the position because he played in the spread offense (in high school) and is someone very comfortable in it. So two of them are very comfortable in the position now, and one is evolving in George."
Atkinson rushed nine times last season for 27 yards, exclusively in mop-up duty. He scored two touchdowns including a short plunge vs. Navy last October. The sophomore thrilled Irish fans in his true freshman season with kickoff return touchdowns vs. both Michigan State and USC, the two best foes on the 2011 slate.
During the off-season as a member of Notre Dame's track team, Atkinson clocked a 10.36 100-meter dash time, the second-fastest in Notre Dame history behind Rocket Ismail's 10.34 in 1991.
Atkinson's classmate McDaniel rushed three times for nine yards last fall while playing often on special teams. He subsequently moved to cornerback in the off-season before moving back to running back during August camp.
Asked if McDaniel, of whom Kelly noted practiced at both cornerback and running back as late as August 16, was a full-time running back now, the head coach offered, "He's exclusively, right now, as we speak, on offense. But you know, things change…"
Sophomore transfer Amir Carlisle will be unavailable for Saturday's contest vs. Navy after missing the bulk of camp while recovering from a broken ankle suffered in March.
Kelly noted Carlisle is "a very good football player" but is operating at about "80 percent." Carlisle could be prepped for game work as early as next week.