My colleague Matt Greene recently offered up some solid reasons as to why he’s excited for the 2021 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season, and the great Lauren Dangel did the same. I will give them that, that those are nice reasons to be excited.
And surely you all would agree that I put forth some compelling reasons myself about a month and a half ago, approaching the topic through the lens of what would be possible again for fans to experience in-person after a season spent away from Notre Dame Stadium.
However, despite all the great points made in those three articles, there is one much more important reason to be excited for the 2021 ND football season: THE RETURN OF BELLYMAN!!!
For anyone unaware what the hell I’m talking about (I know that happens fairly often with me — allow me to just barely explain), please refer to this wonderful piece I authored two games into the 2020 season.
Essentially, due to his penchant for stupendously showing his stomach while being a fantastic running back, my good friend Prison Mike assigned Williams the ridiculous and stupid and perfect nickname of “Bellyman” back when we had barely scratched the surface of how good he would end up being. From that moment on, Irish fans were continuously delighted to watch Bellyman show more and more ability and put together a better season than anyone would have predicted heading into 2020, considering many folks even assumed 5-star frosh Chris Tyree would eventually take the starting role from him.
However, Bellyman didn’t just stave off the freshman — he THRIVED as one of the best backs in the country. Rushing for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns while gashing opponents for 5.3 yards per carry, Bellyman was a force behind the Irish’s super-talented 2020 offensive line. Furthermore, he was also an effective weapon in the passing game, catching 35 passes for 313 yards and 1 TD, and he showed out when the lights shined brightest in the regular season upset of #1 Clemson, when he ran for 140 yards and 3 touchdowns while also putting on a CLINIC in blitz pickups.
As he continued to put on awesome performance after awesome performance, I continued to insist in every forum at my disposal — OFD articles, Twitter, text messages, and spoken word to anyone who would listen to me — that Kyren Williams’ nickname is now “Bellyman,” and he should be referred to as such. It took on a very John Mutton-esque magic for me.
Can we all officially agree that Kyren Williams' nickname is "Bellyman"? The dude is channeling that Bare Stomach Energy into just DESTROYING the competition and I can't think of a better nickname for him. Let's make it happen. pic.twitter.com/VZKXQpWWmX— Not a Fan of Sports (@Psully226) November 9, 2020
Unfortunately, tweets like the above only got me the equivalent of a blank stare from folks like the ND Insider crew when they answered my question on their Pod of Gold podcast — and I’m not gonna lie, that hurt A LOT.
Thanks for the pod Qs @samuel27rc, @Bert2834, @NDMike70, @Irishfan102, @Toefer15, @ThomasNeuburger, @FrankSerra3, @DomerColtsfan, @biafore_marie, @joeysalvatoree, @c_bogen1989, @chrisfleck1, @carleton_butler, @ADrewD, @Berkshireyank, @SdIrishfan @Psully226 https://t.co/w7Og6SiAPd— Tyler James (@TJamesNDI) November 11, 2020
So, as we prepare to enter the 2021 season, I’d like to double-down on my efforts to push everyone to officially call this wonderful star of Tommy Rees’ offense, “Bellyman.”
Let’s prove the nice Pod of Gold folks wrong and make it stick this year for a guy who’s now established as one of the best backs in the country and could use some juice for his branding if he wants to have a shot at Heisman. Heading into this season, Bellyman is the #5 returning rusher in the country based on 2020 stats, only trailing Iowa State’s Breece Hall, UTSA’s Sincere McCormick, South Carolina’s Kevin Harris, and BYU’s Tyler Allgeier.
He was recently named a First Team Preseason All-American by Sporting News, Second Team by Pro Football Network, and Third Team by Athlon Sports. And with the recent NIL ruling and a nickname like Bellyman, the sky is THE LIMIT in terms of what he could do for sponsorships — you gotta think brands like Jelly Belly and Goldbelly would be interested, along with any restaurants that serve pork belly and any dance studios that offer belly dancing lessons. The hype train from that kind of branding/buzz, plus his almost certainty of having another great season, would SURELY earn him an invite to the Heisman ceremony in December.
Of course, there will be some added challenges for Bellyman on the performance side this year. The Irish lost Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks, Tommy Kraemer, and Robert Hainsey to the NFL Draft, meaning the Irish offensive line is replacing 80% of its starters.
However, guys like Zeke Correll and Josh Lugg add decent experience to go along with the lone returning first-teamer Jarrett Patterson (who happens to be a preseason All-American himself), and grad transfer Cain Madden might as well be considered a returning starter, considering he was an All-American guard at Marshall last season and has been named a preseason All-American by numerous publications heading into 2021.
Still, Bellyman will need to navigate running lanes that will probably be a bit messier than last year considering the cohesion and experience playing together that the 2020 line had (and that the 2021 line will lack). He’ll need to rely even more so on his vision, quickness, cutting ability, balance, and tendency to pick up positive yardage, in order to make up for this new lack of holes so big you could drive the ND football equipment truck through them (which is often what he experienced last season).
Nevertheless, Bellyman draws his power from showing his belly while he runs, and thus if his Bellyman persona — currently only used by some of the OFD community and some of my friends — blossoms into a widely-adopted brand and nickname, he should have no problem upping his game and snagging himself another 1,000-yard, double-digit TD season, even with more carries likely going Tyree’s way this year.
So, I think it’s pretty clear what we all need to do — we need to shove the “Bellyman” nickname and the #Bellyman and #TheBellymanCometh hashtags down everyone’s throats on social media, driving Bellyman to have another electric season wherein he ultimately wins Heisman and makes some solid money via some fun endorsement deals in the process.
THAT is what I’m most excited about for the 2021 ND football season — and it should be what YOU ALL are most excited about as well. If you agree, please comment something funny about Bellyman in the comments. If you do not, please don’t talk to me.