Former star running back and 2009 Irish running backs coach Tony Alford is ready to embark on a new challenge for the Notre Dame football program.
Over the last 20-25 years, the business of college football has become a year-round commitment for the sport's student-athletes and coaches.
As a result of this 12-month emphasis, the overall product itself is as exciting as ever, but the by-product of this commitment has likely robbed a local South Bend Little League, Intramural team, or Pop Warner squad of a volunteer coach during what used to be considered the "off-season."
At least that's what I assume new Irish wide receivers coach Tony Alford would do with his hypothetical free time if afforded the opportunity.
"Coaching Ball is coaching ball," Alford offered. "Let's not make this harder than what it is. I'm looking forward to it."
Alford was speaking of his transition from the team's running backs coach, a position he coached for the 15 seasons previous and had played in his youth, most notably as an All-WAC selection and Doak Walker nominee for Colorado State in 1989.
And Notre Dame's new man in charge knows what he has in the 2009 staff's lone holdover.
"I got to know Tony over the years – he's had a relative play for me at Grand Valley," offered head coach Brian Kelly during his introduction of the 2010 staff. "So we're quite comfortable with each other in the knowledge that he brings, not only from being here at Notre Dame but he understands what it takes from my end to recruit.
"He's a tireless recruiter; outstanding in the homes," Kelly continued. "I've had the opportunity to be on the road already with him, he does a terrific job."
"He's a great teacher; a great motivator; the kids respect him, and now he's going to get the opportunity to expand his knowledge base," Kelly explained of the position move. "I see him as a person who's going to complete the process for us in tutoring our wide receivers."
Under Alford's tutelage last season, the junior tandem of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes both improved their production across the board:
- Armando Allen 2009: 142 carries, 733 yards, 4.9 ypc, 3 TD
- Armando Allen 2008: 134 carries, 585 yards, 4.4 yards, 3 TD
- Robert Hughes 2009: 88 carries, 430 yards, 4.7 ypc, 5 TD
- Robert Hughes 2008: 112 carries, 412 yards, 3.4 ypc, 4 TD
"I think just putting in a good, hard day's work every single time and trying to get better," Alford responded when asked what he looks for in a player. "What can we do every single day to better our skill set and to make the team better? It's about being accountable every day and making sure that we're all working for the same goal."
Alford's theme was consistent with his message from last fall when he noted that he enjoyed his group of running backs because football, and particularly playing for Notre Dame, was "important to them."
Alford's position unit took a hit when senior-to-be Golden Tate elected to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL Draft. In Tate, the Irish lost the most productive receiver in program history, but remaining on board is the player most thought would reach that rarified air, junior-to-be Michael Floyd.
"Don't screw him up?" Alford joked when asked about his new prodigy. "I'm looking forward with looking forward to Michael and Shaq (Evans)…the whole group (Alford noted he would add no more names as he had positive feelings about each of the team's incumbents at the position).
"I'm looking forward to getting going as soon as recruiting season is over and getting acclimated to the new position."
Acclimation to the position, at least in terms of meaningful playing time, is the goal of the bulk of the position group entering spring ball.
Alford's Wide Receiver Unit
- Michael Floyd: 6'3, 220 pound sophomore caught 44 passes in 14 halves of football last season, nine of which resulted in touchdowns of 24, 70, 88, 11, 22, 12, 4, 18, and 46 yards. Floyd's 18.1 yards-per-catch average led the squad and ranked as the 11th highest total nationally for players with at least 40 receptions. The ability to remain upright is Floyd's only major weakness as the solidly built target has missed 8.5 of 25 possible games over his two-year career.
- Shaquelle Evans: Caught 7 passes as a true freshman, each of which occurred in the season's first five contest. After ranking as the team's No. 3 and No. 4 wide receiver up to and including the Washington contest (a game in which he recorded four receptions for 34 yards), the 6'1' 203-pound target disappeared from the team's game plan following the school's October break. Evans has three seasons of eligibility remaining and is an odds-on favorite to win one of three starting WR positions entering spring ball.
- Duval Kamara: Grabbed 23 balls for 218 yards and a touchdown last season. After undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in August, Kamara was inconsistent over the 12-game slate (5 starts) though was easily the team's best blocking wide receiver (still a compliment, despite the lack of blocking prowess showed by most Irish players at the position since Maurice Stovall graduated after the '05 season). Kamara played his best game vs. Boston College, catching 7 passes (four for 1st down yardage) for 60 yards. A huge presence outside, the 6'5" 219-pounder enters his final season of eligibility.
- John Goodman: Recorded 6 receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown (64-yarder vs. Washington State); ran twice as a sprint-option quarterback for 14 total yards, and returned five punts for 56 yards with a long gain of 24 yards in the season-opener. A former high school quarterback, the 6'3" 203-pound Goodman is expected to see time at quarterback in the spring, though that situation is influenced by the knee injury of expected starting 2010 QB Dayne Crist (Crist tore his ACL vs. Washington State on October 31). Goodman has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
- Deion Walker: Caught one pass for 15 yards in the season-opener but was rarely targeted again (played sparingly vs. Purdue, Washington, and USC). Though media was given limited access to competitive practice situations last fall, at least two of the five "best" receptions I witnessed were courtesy of Deion Walker – with Michael Floyd grabbing two others and Duval Kamara the other (I point this out because Tate's name is missing from my list and he was the nation's best offensive player last season, so take this Walker observation for what its worth). The 6'2" 193-pounder has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
- Roby Toma: Saw action vs. BC, Washington State, and UConn, catching three passes for 21 yards. Former head coach Charlie Weis lauded the true freshman for his hands and ability to get open. His late-season contributions burned a year of eligibility so the sophomore-to-be is on pace with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
- Barry Gallup: The 5'11" 190-pound receiver/running back/kick returner/special teamer is expected to return as a 5th Year player next fall. Though a fresh slate (new staff) works in Gallup's favor, expect the veteran to again make his biggest impact as a special teams contributor next season.
The following trio is expected to join the Irish for the 2010 season.
- Tai-ler Jones: 6'0" 183-pounder from Gainesville, GA (Gainesville, HS) is rated as the nation's 21st WR by Scout.com. Jones has already enrolled at Notre Dame.
- Bennett Jackson: 6'1" 170-pounds from Hazlet, New Jersey (Raritan, HS). The four-star WR (he received a No. 51 ranking from Scout.com) has a listed 40-yard dash time of 4.4
- Daniel Smith: 6'4" 205-pound target from nearby South Bend Clay HS is rated No. 53 at the position by Scout.com
Note: With the Irish losing two, and possibly three players from the unit following the 2010 season, expect at least two other current players and/or incoming freshman to challenge for a spot among this group over the next two seasons.
Give him a field, a football, a whistle…maybe a pylon or two. Regardless of the situation or the skill set of athletes under his direction, Tony Alford will show up, ready to coach some ball.