I think the most important thing that came out of Saturday's game was the fact that another group of fine men played their final football game in front of their home crowd on Saturday. This group won't be remembered like the '73 team or the '88 team, but they probably overcame more adversity than any group in Irish history.
When Irish fans look back on this collection of seniors they'll see 5-6, 10-3, 5-7, 6-6 and hopefully 10-2……not the most impressive numbers in regards to wins. But hopefully they'll also remember what this group stood for….never quitting.
This class of seniors endured four coaching changes, had three different offenses and defenses to learn, and a mountain of criticism to overcome, but yet you never heard anyone complain. I don't remember anyone making excuses, even when the finger was pointed at them, and unfortunately the finger was pointed at them far often--not by just the fans but their own coaching staff.
Nope, nobody packed their bags or folded up their tents. This class was in it for the long haul, and for the right reasons, and I hope Irish fans will remember that.
I remember the first time I talked to Mark LeVoir on the phone. You could tell right away he had a fondness for Notre Dame, and it was just a matter of time before he jumped on ship. LeVoir was one of the first to commit in this class, and he used to keep in touch with me often to find out who else was joining him at Notre Dame.
He was one of the most excited players I've encountered when it came time to commit to Notre Dame. I'm going to enjoy watching and hearing his name called in the second round of the NFL draft—you heard it here first.
I also remember speaking to Brandon Hoyte on the phone and thinking "wow, what a neat kid." I remember thinking "this kid is going to be a team leader some day" and he ended up being just that. I'm not saying that to blow my own horn. Brandon's personality just oozed leadership, and that's a credit to him.
I think all that needs to be said about Brandon Hoyte was how he responded in his first game starting in the first game of 2002 season. Hoyte stepped in at the last minute for the injured Courtney Watson and finished the game as the team leader in tackles with eight. But the best thing you can say about Hoyte is he's been a great player on the field and an even better person off it.
I remember speaking with Dan Stevenson and going through the rollercoaster ride of recruiting that he went through—first committing to Nebraska and then switching to the Irish. Some Nebraska people were not too nice to Dan, but he never once got involved in the mudslinging, and that says a lot about him. Oh, and by the way, he also started three years for Notre Dame—not too shabby.
I remember getting really excited when Corey Mays committed to Notre Dame. He played with a nasty attitude on film and he's continued that trend throughout his career at Notre Dame. Some were convinced Mays would grow into an interior defensive lineman, and ironically the knock on him as far as the NFL draft gurus are concerned, is he's a tad bit undersized. His athletic ability, heart and effort were never in question. Mays waited his turn at Notre Dame, and hopefully he'll end his senior season on a high note with a BCS bowl victory.
We were all excited when Matt Shelton came aboard…finally, a receiver with blazing speed. Then poor Matt injured his knee, and he reported to Notre Dame still rehabbing the knee. All Shelton ever needed was a chance, and when he finally got his chance he responded with an amazing 2004 season where he set a ND record for most yards per reception (25.5) in a single season. Unfortunately the scalpel found Shelton's other knee at the end of 2003, but he fought through it to have a solid senior season.
Brian Beidatsch was a late commitment, switching from Illinois to Notre Dame at the last minute. He's been a steady performer for the past two seasons for Notre Dame and has given the Irish valuable depth and played many meaningful minutes along the interior. He's known as the strongest member of the team, and we wish him well in whatever he does in the future.
They say you never know how much you miss someone until they're gone. I'm going to guess Irish fans will be reminded of that next season with the absence of kicker/punter D.J. Fitzpatrick. That is not meant to disrespect those that will take over for him next year, I'm sure they'll do fine, but it is meant as a compliment to Fitzpatrick for being the solid, steady performer he's been over the past few seasons. Another walk-on makes good.
And finally, the end of Maurice Stovall's career is nearing and I can't say enough about his final season. I don't think any single player has benefited or responded more positively to last season's coaching change than Stovall.
It has been an absolute joy to watch Stovall develop this season. Stovall has faced a lot of criticism over his career at Notre Dame, and some even came from me, so I want to be the first to tip my hat to this great kid and congratulate him on becoming the great player we all knew he was. He's one of the classiest kids you'll ever meet, and he stepped up in a huge way for Notre Dame this year. I'll enjoy watching and hearing Stovall's name called in the first round of the NFL draft this April.
This group of seniors have endured a lot in their four or five years at Notre Dame. Here's to hoping they can go out a winner when it's all said and done.