Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

The decision to rotate the No. 1 is an answer – a bad one -- to the never-ending demand among players. Well-intentioned, it still puts the individual ahead of the team.

THE BRYANT PAPERS

http://www.scout.com/college/notre-dame/story/1678072-greg-bryant-s-jour...There has never been a more compelling, thought-provoking, heartbreaking piece on this website or any other affiliated with Notre Dame than the classroom papers written by the late Greg Bryant that Bryant Sr. passed on to Irish Illustrated editor Pete Sampson.

Ninety-nine percent of our work is sports related. The Bryant Papers are about something way more important – spirituality, family, life.

The struggle that Bryant went through becomes reality in his classroom work as he reveals the battle he had with a) witnessing his mother’s incarceration and b) the drugs and violence that were a part of his every-day life growing up in Delray Beach, Fla.

Also tugging at the heartstrings is the loving feelings the son developed for his father as he realized during his path to adulthood just how much dad had done for son.

It’s a story that will resonate for a long, long time around Notre Dame and Irish Illustrated. If you haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself.

THE NO. 1

Notre Dame’s decision to rotate the No. 1, which goes to “the player who exemplifies himself both on and off the field in a manner that represents all the things we want a Notre Dame football player to represent” – in the words of Brian Kelly – is one of the most perplexing decisions the Irish head coach has made as he prepares for his seventh season with the Irish.

The demand for a specific number is at the forefront of this decision. It won’t solve that demand for the other single-digit numbers, which won’t rotate. But it’s an appeasement, which some coaches today believe they must do to meet the demand.

When everything about the program is geared toward team-first and player-second, Notre Dame has created a situation that flips those roles. Granted, expressing team-first qualities will help one’s quest to wear the No. 1. In fact, it will be at the forefront of the decision as to who wears No. 1, and that’s a good thing.

But it also creates a needless individual quest during the season when preparing to win a game – not calling attention to one’s individual accomplishments, whether on or off the field  – should be the only thing that matters.

It’s only natural for a player to say, “Hey, why didn’t I get No. 1 this week? I scored two touchdowns!”

While the Irish coaching staff undoubtedly will try to frame the recipient of the jersey number to be the person that best exemplified the team-first attitude, it creates a needless distraction and a conflicting battle for individual recognition.

Good luck to Ryan Grooms, Notre Dame’s equipment manager.

OFFENSIVE TURNOVER

Brian VanGorder enters his third year as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame this fall, which means this is the third year in the system for all of the juniors, seniors and fifth-year seniors.

That should be an advantage -- particularly early in the season -- against eight of 12 Irish opponents who have made offensive coordinator changes.

Texas, Nevada, Duke, Syracuse and N.C. State – five of the first six opponents – have an offensive coordinator different than the one who ran the show a year ago. Three of the last five opponents of the season – Miami, Virginia Tech and USC – also have new offensive coordinators.

Then again, hurry-up offenses have given VanGorder’s defenses trouble, and that’s exactly what the Irish will face in the season-opener against Texas, whose offense – now coordinated by Sterlin Gilbert from Tulsa – will be in fast-break mode on Labor Sunday night.

OF NOTRE DAME MEN

This fall will be my 35th year of covering Notre Dame football. I have had the incredible honor and privilege of playing a small role on the fringe of Notre Dame football by detailing the school’s, the coaches’ and the players’ lives and their endeavors.

While there’s no thrill quite like attending games live and reporting the on-site action, the second most gratifying type of story is visiting with former players after they’ve left Notre Dame and gone on with their lives.

The interviews are on a more personal, adult-to-adult level as opposed to the dance that many student-athletes have to undertake while they’re still playing at Notre Dame. A barrier is removed from the interview process.

It is with great pleasure and excitement we present to you our latest such interview on Friday, June 17, with former Irish captain and graduate assistant coach Kyle McCarthy.

McCarthy, after leading the Irish in tackles in 2008-09, carved a five-year niche with the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders before multiple knee injuries ended his professional career. He earned a spot in the Broncos’ nickel and dime packages, and was a core participant on special teams.

He returned to Notre Dame as a graduate assistant in February 2014. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer a few months later and survived a determined, courageous battle while still maintaining his coaching duties. He is cancer-free today.

McCarthy, like so many of the Notre Dame athletes we’ve covered for the last three-and-a-half decades, is a genuine, truly humble human being.

He actually said at one point during the interview that during his illness, he “didn’t want to make it bigger deal than it was.” He didn’t want pity from the Notre Dame community because it would be a distraction to the Fighting Irish football program. The media never interviewed McCarthy during his brief return to Notre Dame.

McCarthy is one of dozens of former Notre Dame players who genuinely live their lives in this manner.

Look for the story Friday. McCarthy is a true inspiration…and a one-month newlywed, too.
                                                                       



Corey Robinson announced what many anticipated for months. Even former teammates who are no longer around the program were expecting his decision to bypass his final year of eligibility, due largely to repeated concussions.

The genuine nature of Robinson – and that of his family, led by The Admiral himself – is all real. Robinson has bigger fish to fry in this world, including this fall when he serves as Notre Dame’s student body president. He’ll maintain a role with the team, which will assist the leadership of the program.

While he never achieved a level of consistency at the wide receiver position, he most certainly was an asset from the fourth game of his career as a freshman in ’13 against Michigan State, through the eight-catch, 99-yard, two-touchdown effort at Florida State in ’14, to the go-ahead touchdown reception in the fourth quarter versus USC in ’15.

It should be noted that Robinson was a properly-rated three-star prospect out of high school in San Antonio. He was still growing into his body. Running precise routes was difficult for the growing Robinson. He was very raw coming out of high school.

His game in three years often was hit-and-miss. Injuries made it difficult to attain a level of consistency in 2015. But consider for a second that his three most noteworthy games came against Michigan State, Florida State and USC. That’s a productive football player on any scale…and an off-the-chart quality human being t’boot.

One can only hope that Robinson quickly finds peace with his decision and moves on to what undoubtedly will be an impactful life.

JACKSON SLIDE

Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson, who bypassed his final year of eligibility to enter the NBA draft (Thursday, June 23), appears to be losing momentum as the big day approaches.

Once thought of as a lottery pick (top 14) before anyone really knew who would be in the draft and where most would be slotted, Jackson has fallen back a bit in the pecking order.

The ceiling looks to be No. 17 to the Memphis Grizzlies. The floor could be as late as early-second round, although he probably won’t slide further than first-round picks Nos. 24 and 26, both of which belong – along with the No. 1 pick overall – to the Philadelphia 76ers.

(Note: It would be pretty ironic if Jackson ended up in Philly. The draft is in Brooklyn, where Jackson played his first two NCAA tournament games of the post-season three months ago. The City of Brotherly Love is where he played his final two college games against Wisconsin and North Carolina.)

Contract values – particularly guaranteed money – drop precipitously when players fall from the first round to the second round. “Contracts are shorter and typically include just one or two years of guaranteed money, often at or near the NBA minimum salary,” said Spotrac.com.

Regardless what happens next Thursday, it wasn’t a mistake by Jackson to enter the draft. He was ready mentally and emotionally to move on to the next phase of his life. If it costs him significant dollars, it’s a tough break. But it’s where Jackson’s head was upon the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.

It will be a major surprise if Jackson falls beyond the first round. He tested too well and interviewed too well for the entire first round to slide by without hearing his name called next Thursday.

RELYING ON BALANIS

With the departure of veteran Notre Dame assistant basketball coaches Anthony Solomon and Martin Ingelsby, long-time Irish assistant Rod Balanis ascends to the top role on Mike Brey’s staff.

The understated Balanis tends to blend into the program without much fanfare. Many fans probably aren’t exactly sure of his name when they see him on the Irish bench.

But he’s the only constant in the Brey regime at Notre Dame, which enters its 17th year this winter. Many don’t even realize that Balanis came to Notre Dame with Brey in 2000.

You don’t hear much from Balanis, although he was incredibly helpful and informative to Irish Illustrated during the ACC and NCAA tournaments as he provided scouting report insight.

His role, however, increases with young coaches Ryan Humphrey and Ryan Ayers on the staff. He’ll play a lead role when it comes to scouting reports of Irish opponents and could be in line for elevation to Associate Head Coach status.

Look for more in an upcoming story on Irish Illustrated.

ENDS AND ODDS

• Love Twitter when it’s used to be informative. Credit to the media, which -- outside of never-ending pontificating by personalities such as ESPN’s Skip Bayless -- use it well to inform the masses.

At the risk of offending our contacts at the University – they’re only doing their jobs -- college athletic departments/media relations have turned it into a pom-pom waving exercise as a way of saying, “Look at us! Look how great we are!”

Zzzzzzzz.

The decision to bring back former players Ryan Humphrey and Ryan Ayers to the coaching staff under Mike Brey is a progressive one. Brey is thinking progressively. It’s a forward-thinking move as he enters the next phase of his coaching career with the Irish.

But you’d swear Notre Dame is bringing back Phil Jackson and Pat Riley to the coaching staff based upon the number of tweets about their glorious returns.

• Aren’t the never-ending string of satellite camps throughout the summer akin to the never-ending presidential campaigning? When does it start? When does it end? Where do we draw the line? How much money spent is too much money spent? How much recruiting is too much recruiting? It’s out of control.

• Best football news of the summer from Brian Kelly…The complete bill of health for freshman defensive end Daelin Hayes, a legitimate pass-rush weapon if he can stay healthy and continue the strength and conditioning process unimpeded throughout the summer.


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