From the Bottom Up

Notre Dame has operated for the bulk of the 2012 season with just 75 scholarship players. Fortunate for Irish fans, Cam McDaniel is one of them.

Part of a practice week spent at defensive back. A game day role as the team's lead kick returner. At the ready if a third running back was deemed necessary.

That's what sophomore Cam McDaniel brought to Brian Kelly's football team last week. Its what he brings every week that has ingratiated the Coppell, Texas product to the fan base, his teammates, and the coaching staff.

"I think in recruiting you're looking for guys that understand team and understand the components that go to having a great football team," said Kelly of McDaniel. "So I think it starts in recruiting those kinds of guys.

"Secondly, he's got a great deal of confidence in himself that when you call upon him, he's going to play really good football. I think finally he feels like more than anything else, that he will be a huge contributor to our success, and we believe in that as well, so you have a guy that knows that he's going to impact the program. It's just a matter of time. And of course, I think within our program we develop that next man in."

McDaniel starred in relief during blowout wins against Navy (10 touches, 79 yards) and Miami (12, 76, TD). Saturday night he stepped in for classmate and touchdown threat George Atkinson as the lead kick returner. Predictably, McDaniel made a play when it mattered.

Trailing 10-6 and in need of a momentum changing drive, Oklahoma's kick coverage unit surrounding McDaniel at the Irish 12 yard line. One shake, one stutter, and one burst upfield later, McDaniel split three would-be-tacklers for nine more yards and breathing room for his offense at the 21 yard line. His never-say-down contribution to what became a field position seize and 13-play, 60-yard drive shouldn't go unnoticed.

And unnoticed is exactly where McDaniel resided in the pre-season, one with visions of the three-headed monster of Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and George Atkinson dancing in Irish observers heads.

"All four of us are very capable," said Riddick of McDaniel when asked about the team's trio of runners. "You forgot to include Cam. I'm telling you, he's better (than we think)."

Wherever and whenever called upon, it appears.

Be Like Mike

Four years ago, a walk-on led Notre Dame's kick and punt coverage units with an eye-popping 23 tackles. 12 seasons prior to that record-setting effort by Mike Anello, walk-on Mark Monahan led Lou Holtz's Irish with 15.

Over the last decade, walk-ons such as Matt Sarb, Brandon Harris, Patrick Coughlin, and today (former walk-on) Chris Salvi, Tyler Plantz, Conor Cavalaris and Joe Schmidt have won starting roles on the team's coverage and/or return units. Salvi manned such a role throughout the Kelly era.

It's inspiring for any football fan to see non-scholarship athletes competing with and tackling former 5-star recruits. It also unearths a logical question:

With scholarship non-freshman on the bench, why are these guys out there?

"Well, it's a fair question; I don't know that I want to answer the question in all of its levels," said Kelly. "But clearly you've got some guys that we challenged that should be on that team and they're not on that team."

Kelly was speaking of scholarship underclassmen, those at a stage of their Irish career in which they should lend valuable special teams reps to offer scrimmage players relief.

"What are the reasons?  I could list about 10 of them, 15 of them," Kelly lamented. "It's our job to get them to that next level and then it's their job to recognize that if they're not on the special teams and there's another young man who's not on a scholarship that is, that doesn't reflect well on you.

"So we're in that (situation) -- every program is, though.  Every program is challenging those young guys. Sometimes the light goes on. Romeo Okwara, for example, first four games, it looked like he was walking down on kickoff," said Kelly of the freshman linebacker. "And it wasn't because he wanted to. The game was just really different for him. This week he gets out there (from scrimmage) and he almost knocked a guy out of the game with just a terrific hit. He's playing faster.

"So you know, there's a lot of levels to the question.  It's a fair question.  I don't know that I want to get into all the specifics of it right now."

Its not hard to read between the lines, either. In the interim, Plantz, Cavalaris, and Schmidt, have the situation covered. Top Stories