Texas Forever

Junior running back Cam McDaniel makes his first trip back to the Lone Star State to play in front of hometown fans.

For many of Notre Dame's and Arizona State's players, Saturday's game in Cowboys Stadium will serve as the highlight venue of their collegiate careers.

One Notre Dame junior is looking forward to the experience as much as any, but not because of the allure of playing in a professional cathedral. Rather, running back Cam McDaniel is going home.

"Oh yeah, it's going to be a blast. I'm totally excited about it," said McDaniel. "An amazing opportunity to go back and play in front of friends, family, in the town I was born in. I'm looking forward to it."

McDaniel hails from Coppell, a town "about 20 or 30 minutes away."

Proximity, not to mention McDaniel's emergence this season as one of Notre Dame's offensive commodities, has the hometown hero besieged with ticket requests.

"I'm letting my parents take care of it. I gave them my four tickets that I have (as a player) and they have their tickets," he said. "I'll let them take care of it this time because there was too much for me to worry about this week. I had a lot on my plate. My mom and dad are good about coordinating that."

Texas Never

McDaniel' journey from class 5A Coppell High School to Notre Dame was circuitous. First noticed by the previous regime as an underclassmen, McDaniel barely had time to consider a trek north prior to his senior season at Coppell, one that concluded with a 13-1 mark, an area-high 37 touchdowns, and more than 1,900 rushing and 400 receiving yards.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, McDaniel was again contacted by the Irish, this time from a staff concluding its first season under head coach Brian Kelly.

"After I came here (South Bend) after my sophomore year for a camp with Coach (Charlie) Weis, they had been on my radar a little bit. Then Coach Weis left and they were off my radar," he said. "That door was reintroduced to me late in my senior year."

Offered in-state by Texas Tech, McDaniel was drawn to South Bend by a higher power.

"(Leaving) was kind of tough. We're some of the most prideful individuals in the nation, that's for sure," he said of his fellow Texans. "We have that state pride and it's really tough to leave that place that you think is the promised land. But when God calls you somewhere, you listen and obey. This is where he called me and this is where I knew I needed to be.

"I was considering was Texas Tech at the time, but really my second choice was Stanford," he said.

As for every Texas prep star's dream school, the University of Texas? "It was definitely something I would have liked as a possibility, but at the same time I was open to every opportunity and was trusting God that he would open every door that needed to be opened, and close every door that needed to be closed."

Nothing New, Just Improved

To a man, Notre Dame's traveling squad admitted excitement for Friday's walk-through inside Cowboys Stadium. (McDaniel's fellow junior running back Amir Carlisle called it "a once-in-a-lifetime experience as collegians.")

For McDaniel, it will also be his only trip as a collegian, but far from his first rodeo, so to speak.

"I've played about four or five times (at Cowboys Stadium) in Texas High School football games," McDaniel offered. "It's one of those things you have to experience to really understand the magnitude of it. It's an awesome scenario and it's going to be a fun atmosphere to play in.

As for what most people first notice upon entry, McDaniel joked, "The star logo -- no, not at all. You notice the Screen every time.

The largest of its kind when built in 2009, "The Screen" resides above the field's respective 20 yard lines, measuring 11,200 square-feet. As Irish nose guard Louis Nix mentioned this week, "I heard the Jumbo Tron is real nice. Hopefully it will influence (director of athletics Jack) Swarbrick to put one of those in there."

Opportunity -- Today and Tomorrow

Arizona State flipped the pre-season script on Notre Dame prior to tonight's matchup. Expected to be the underdog and lower-ranked team, the No. 22 Sun Devils are instead 3-1 with wins over Wisconsin and USC. The Irish enter 3-2 and unranked for the first time since mid-September 2012, underdogs of more than five points in most wagering circles.

"They're a tough, physical defense, they're a very good football team," McDaniel said of the Sun Devils. "They're excited, they're doing good things coming off a big win with USC so we know we're going to get them at their best. We'll have to compete to the best of our ability to win this game.

McDaniel and the Irish experienced a rarity last week -- though they out-rushed their foe Oklahoma, Notre Dame nonetheless tasted defeat, just the third such occurrence in the last 48 times the program has produced more yards on the ground than its opponent of the day.

The chief culprits in that statistical oddity were easy to discern: Notre Dame rarely possessed the football, executing just 54 snaps. More important, three ended in turnovers.

"Controlling the football is going to be a big deal for us this week," McDaniel said. "Ithink we recognize that and we just have to go out and execute and compete."

A win in his home state would not only help re-start the Irish season (4-2 entering a bye is a world apart from 3-3 with arch-rival USC on deck), but potentially offer an initial toehold in an ongoing effort to gain the services of a number of Irish targets from the Lone Star State, both for 2014 and beyond.

"I think that would be an awesome opportunity," said McDaniel of prep players receiving their first up-close look of the Irish. "I'm not a recruiter, so it's hard for me to know, but I would imagine recruiting guys from Texas, and maybe guys from the West Coast, it would be sometimes hard to lure them up here into the Midwest region. You have to use program prestige and (academics) and those things to show them it's worth the trek and it's worth that transition to the cold weather for a little while.

"Notre Dame is recognized nationwide," McDaniel said of program's current imprint in the state. "The only thing is, I really do think Texas is in its own bubble at times with the Longhorn network, A&M, the state pride, there's a lot of things that make that a special place. But at the same time Notre Dame is heavily recognized. But you either love them or you hate them. I think that goes all around the nation. When you do find Notre Dame fans in Texas, they're very hard core."


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