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90th Annual Notre Dame Football Awards and More News & Notes

As we inch closer to national signing day with a full class relatively in tact, there isn’t a whole lot to do right but sit and wait.

Notre Dame is still waiting to hear on a few more prospects and there is an outside chance that there will be a surprise February signing, but the focus has now slowly started to shift to winter workouts, spring practice and the 2011 season.

However, the Fighting Irish did hold their annual awards show on Saturday with head coach Brian Kelly tweaking the format and making some small changes.

Here is a recap of the winners over the weekend.

Monogram Club Most Valuable Player Award- Michael Floyd

This wasn’t very surprising, although a case could have been made for Manti Te’o to win this award.

Floyd got off to a slow start on the season and missed the entire Navy game with an injury, but went on a tear during the second half of the season.

His averages were down in comparison to his first two seasons at Notre Dame and for that it seemed like he was a bit of disappointment, but he still ended up with the second most catches ever for a single season and brought a ton of leadership to the team.

With better quarterback play next year, Floyd should have a very successful senior season and sit atop nearly every receiving record.

Nick Pietrosante Award- Robert Hughes

This award goes to the player who exemplifies courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride, and what a great recipient in Robert Hughes.

Hughes’ career may never have panned out the way some thought it would, but he has always been an exemplary leader and professional in everything he’s done.

Guardian of the Year Award- Zack Martin

This is a big achievement for a redshirt sophomore and it is a bright sign for the future of the offensive line.

Martin was extremely consistent at left tackle and even made a smooth transition to right tackle for a couple games as well.

Thinking about this award reminds just how good the offensive line was for Notre Dame this year. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, particularly in the running game, but this was one of the best pass protection units in over a decade.

Lineman of the Year Award- Ian Williams

It was a great story to see that Williams was able to come back and play late in the season after suffering what looked like a pretty nasty injury against Navy.

Williams was quietly one of the most consistent defenders during his four years on campus and put together very impressive freshman and senior seasons. It was surprising that the defense played so well in his absence in 2010, but he is leaving rather large shoes to fill for the nose tackles in 2011.

Rockne Student-Athlete Award- David Ruffer

Ruffer has been a tremendous player and a feel-good story ever since he started his field goal streak back in the middle of 2009.

That school-record streak came to an end late in the Sun Bowl after he tweaked his leg and still attempted a field goal, but there’s no denying he has been Mr. Clutch and a desperately needed stabilizing force in the kicking game.

And the best news of all is that Ruffer has been awarded a scholarship and will be returning for a fifth-year next fall.

Next Man In Award- Tommy Rees

No one is probably shocked to see that this award was created by Brian Kelly as "next man in" is one of his mantras and one of his top five most popular coaching phrases.

Maybe Rees isn’t the quarterback of the future (an argument for another time), but he earned this award big time.

The amount of guts and savvy it took to take over after Crist went down is rather ridiculous. A lot of junior 20-something walk into that situation and everything falls apart, but Rees kept things under control as a skinny true freshman.

Well done, Tommy.

Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year Award- Cameron Roberson

For those worried about the depth at running back next year, this award may sooth some of those concerns.

Roberson spent his entire freshman season buried in the murky waters of scout team in a spot where no single human outside of the players and coaching staff could watch him do his thing. However, we do know that Brian Kelly can’t stop raving about him whenever he gets the chance.

We shall anxiously await spring practices and their accompanied videos, as well as the Blue-Gold game, in order to get a glimpse of this Californian running back.

Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year Award- Kendall Moore

Here’s another freshman who we think is very talented and may make an impact next season at middle linebacker.

Moore is a big kid and joins Roberson and Andrew Hendrix as the "holy trinity of true freshman who didn’t play in 2010, but which the head coaching staff can’t stop complementing."

It’s pretty exciting that the Irish are losing two starting linebackers, but might get significantly better at the position next year.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year Award- Tyler Eifert

In a lot of people’s eyes, Eifert came out of nowhere this year.

Once Ragone go into trouble with the law and fought off a sickness in fall camp, Brian Kelly really said some amazing things about Eifert and his talent.

If you were like me you were thinking, "Oh that’s nice, Eifert will be a solid player in a year or two, that’s a bonus!"

But once Kyle Rudolph shut it down after surgery, Eifert stepped up and offered no drop off in tight end production. That’s kind of a big deal.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award- Prince Shembo

Unless you’re a defender on an SEC team, notching 4.5 sacks as a freshman is going to win you this award.

Shembo is still raw and needs some refinement in his overall game, but he is physically mature beyond his years and an absolute beast rushing the passer off the edge.

His future is going to be very bright.

Special Teams Player of the Year Award- Bennett Jackson

Had Ruffer not won the Rockne Award, he probably takes this one instead. But Bennett Jackson had a very solid year as a kick returner and played a significant role on kick coverage as well.

Jackson has uber-speed, but if he wants to be in contention for this award again next year he’s going to have to step up his game next season as there will be around six likely candidates vying for playing time on kickoffs.

Other News & Notes

Riddick Moving Back to Running Back? What???

Wait a minute, hold on just a second.

This isn’t exactly what Brian Kelly said in his Friday press conference, but that didn’t stop Notre Dame Nation from blowing up in a feeding frenzy of rumor.

These types of misunderstandings and words taken out of context happen a few times a year with coaches, so let’s just settle down okay?

What Kelly really said was that they might look into moving Riddick back to running back, but obviously nothing has been settled or determined.

After spending a great deal of last year training Riddick in the transition from running back to slot receiver, I still think it’s unlikely he moves into the backfield again full-time.

What this likely means is that Riddick is going to have an increased role in 2011, and might take some carries out of the backfield, or play the flanker-type position that Rocket Ismail and Ricky Watters made famous in the late 1980’s.

It’s all about getting more touches to your best playmakers.

I wouldn’t expect Riddick to even sniff being a full-time running back again unless Roberson gets hurt or can’t compete next year, or if some new player like George Atkinson comes in and demands a place in the slot with his skills.

Not Many Injuries Now Compared to Last Year

Last year during the winter workouts there were 15 surgeries to go along with an entire team getting used to Paul Longo’s strength and conditioning program.

Brian Kelly is happy to announce that things are much better this time around.

The only significant injury was to nose tackle Sean Cwynar who had surgery on his back and foot and will be out approximately six to eight weeks.

Cwynar should be back in time for spring practices, but his absence will give youngsters like Tyler Stockton and Louis Nix a small advantage in the meantime.

Who is Returning for a Fifth Year?

As of late Monday afternoon, only cornerback Gary Gray has been confirmed as a 5th year returner. I would expect Harrison Smith to be next as well as Taylor Dever.

It’s looking more and more likely that those will be the only three coming back.

With the size of the recruiting class coming in, Ruffer being granted a scholarship, and Montana staying on scholarship, the boat is getting awfully full.