Notre Dame Football: Tony Alford

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame players and coaches came and went during last season's media day, posing for pictures and shuffling out of the stadium to resume preparations for their looming opener. But Tony Alford remained behind, alone with his thoughts. Alford's younger brother Aaron died from a blood clot 10 days earlier, on Aug. 12. He was 39. Alford had been back at work as the Irish's running backs and slot receivers coach for just four days after burying his best friend in Park City, Utah. Much of his mind remained there.

First-year graduate assistant Tyler McDermott recognized the look on Alford's face and took a seat next to his mentor, who let the emotions of the month pour out.

"He was very open and very honest about it, and he told me some things I don't think he would have told many other people," said McDermott, who connected with Tony through Colorado State, their alma mater. "Before we got up to walk back, he goes, 'Hey, Aaron had a camp, and it was in Park City.' And I just said, 'In the summer?' He's like, 'Yeah.' I said, 'You don't even need to ask. I'm there.' "

That set in motion preparations for the second annual Aaron Alford Greatest Of All-Time football camp, which took place June 30-July 2. The Alford brothers always talked about starting their own camp as a way to get more kids involved in football. Aaron made it happen when he was out of coaching last summer, drawing a crowd of about 75.

 

An event like that was always Aaron's dream, Tony said. Yes, a shoulder injury Aaron suffered at Colorado State opened the coaching door early. And yes, he made a difference as an assistant at five different colleges, Utah the most notable among them. But he wanted to spend more time with his family and impact his community in a different way.

He opened a local branch of the New Beginnings Behavioral Treatment Agency, a center for youths having trouble at home, last July. He was, according to several accounts, literally signing the papers to make him Park City High's next athletic director right before he felt light-headed and stood up to get some fresh air. A blood clot from deep vein thrombosis had moved to his heart. He collapsed.

Everything was coming back into play for Aaron. And then he was gone.

At Aaron's funeral service, a boy no older than 10 approached Tony, telling him how much fun the camp was, and how Aaron got the boy interested in football.

"If the camp was still going on, would you do it?" Tony recalled asking the boy. "And he goes, 'Yeah, I would.' I said, 'Well I guess we'll have the camp.' I said it and it just kind of came out. It was an emotional time. 'Yeah, we'll run the camp.'"

A month later, Aaron's widow, Linda, called Tony asking if he was really going to run it. Plenty of area kids, including her three boys, were asking about it.

"I guess I better run the camp," Tony said, laughing.

So Tony rounded up his brother's friends in the coaching fraternity and got them involved. Brent Myers from Weber State, Bo Beck from Montana State and former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator John Pease were soon on board, flying themselves to Utah for the second week of summer. Most of the area youth coaches participated, too.

Kelly Cares, Irish head coach Brian Kelly's foundation, offered support. Linda and Gloria, the Alfords' mother, helped with registration. Former Notre Dame players Louis Nix, TJ Jones and Theo Riddick reached out afterward, pledging their support for future years.

More than 170 kids showed up at Park City High's Dozier Field. Heads-up tackling, blocking techniques and catching drills were part of the itinerary. So, too, were super-soaker battles and water-balloon fights.

Tony played the role of supervisor for three days. And walking from group to group and interacting with each kid turned out to be more rewarding than running drills.

When McDermott and the rest of the visiting coaches explored town after each session, they inevitably found themselves locked in conversations with locals, sharing stories of Aaron's favorite meal or Aaron's favorite bar. When they returned to camp each morning, it was like the discussion never ended, as a parent always had another story to share.

[+] EnlargeTony Alford
Robin Alam/Icon SMINotre Dame running backs and slot receivers coach Tony Alford has carried on his brother Aaron's memory, as well as his legacy as a friend, mentor and coach.
"His deal was he was going to go out and try to be a positive influence on as many people as he could," Tony said. "He had a passion for young people, and watching them grow and mature. I stayed at his home and all the kids in that neighborhood, they just kind of flocked to him. That was his personality, it really was. He was a gregarious guy, high energy, always had a smile on his face and a positive word for everyone."

That youth center Aaron had opened? It was kick-started by Cedric Pittman, who ran the Las Vegas branch, whom Aaron had taken under his wing after Cedric's brother was murdered as a teenager, and who came back around to give Aaron this opportunity to bring a center home.

Those three boys of Aaron? The oldest, 15-year-old sophomore Elijah, is a promising two-way lineman for Park City. And he and his brothers, 10-year-old twins Max and Sam, are comforted by their uncle Tony, who flies them into South Bend, Indiana, regularly and looks after them the same way he does his own three sons.

"There's a lot of great single moms -- I get it, and they all need to be applauded," Tony said. "But when I'm talking about my sister-in-law, she's amazing. Those boys are sure lucky to have her. My brother was lucky to have her in his life, and he said that to me a lot. To watch them and the way that they're growing -- they're mature, they're responsible, they're polite, they're well mannered. All of the above."

Two months ago, for Father's Day, Linda gave Tony a handmade book of memories of Aaron, filled with pictures, old journal entries and quotes he lived by.

Tony paused for a few seconds when talking about the gesture, trying not to choke up. A full year later, and that old adage about time healing all wounds has been just that -- an adage. Everyone tells Tony his brother is in a better place now. He gets it, sure. But the pain has yet to subside, not even close.

Tony has that picture book to turn to at any point. He has a green "G.O.A.T." bracelet he wears at all times. Those are for him. Tony knows that to truly honor his brother, he must impact others.

"If I can do anything to prolong, to enhance, to move along his legacy, then that's what I'm going to do in his name," Tony said. "Because for those that knew him, we were very lucky to have him in our lives for as long as we did. And it was way too short, but the time that he did have with us was special, and he affected and he left an imprint on many, many people."

Irish lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
PM ET
Who ya got tonight?
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Just because the relationship between Notre Dame's top quarterbacks is different this time around doesn't necessarily mean Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are stealing each other's playbooks.

"They are competitive, but they do help each other, believe it or not," quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. "Just the other day at practice Malik made a mistake and Everett was trying to explain to him why he made that mistake. Yeah, there is a competitiveness but those guys also help each other at game time."

Golson-Tommy Rees, this is not, as coach Brian Kelly made pretty clear earlier this spring. And the frontrunner to be the Irish's starter will likely have to wait four-plus months to be officially declared the No. 1 guy.

LaFleur, the first-year Irish assistant, said he has been more focused this spring on getting everyone on the same page before drawing any comparisons between the two signal callers, be it through stats or other tangible measurements.

"Honestly, I don't think it makes a difference right now," LaFleur said of knowing a starter this early. "I think each guy, whether you're an offensive lineman, receiver, running back -- you're kind of focused on your job. And No. 1, I tell the quarterbacks, do your job. You've got to do your job before you can even worry about anyone else or any other situation. I think from an offensive standpoint, I think everybody's just focused on improving their own skills and improving each day."

Both quarterbacks have heeded that advice, stressing that their concerns have lied inward, not on what the other was doing.

"It's definitely put me in another level of capability in terms of just being comfortable within the offense," Zaire said. "I think this year and this spring specifically it's gotten better for me because I'm in there a lot more than last year."

Notes: LaFleur, a Mt. Pleasant, Mich., native, said he will recruit Michigan locally while having responsibilities on the West Coast, from the Los Angeles area up through Washington. He has Hawaii, as well. … Notre Dame was finally able to practice outside Monday and Wednesday, making conditions more ideal for the always-intriguing punt return unit. Running backs coach Tony Alford mentioned Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter Jr. and Josh Atkinson as players who have gotten looks in the return game.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The word used to describe Greg Bryant every step of the way this spring, from players and coaches alike, has been "powerful." Given a chance to finally address his status for the first time since arriving at Notre Dame last summer, Bryant chose other adjectives.

"Real hungry," the ballyhooed running back said. "It's like, I'm so hungry that I got so humble that I don't even want to talk about it."

[+] EnlargeGreg Bryant
Robin Alam/Icon SMIGreg Bryant only tallied 14 yards last season before a knee injury cut short his season.
Bryant had been doing little but talking about just that for the preceding 20 minutes or so, so he can be forgiven for his fatigue after mentioning a variation of "hungry" or "humble" 14 different times. He's hungry after sitting out the final nine games of his rookie campaign; he's humble after seeing little go right for him in those previous four games, tallying 14 yards on just three carries before being shut down for the season because of tendinitis in his right knee.

Now the former ESPN four-star recruit and No. 2 running back from the Class of 2013 is turning heads this spring, the first step toward erasing the bad taste of last season and building toward a breakout fall. He understood the attention surrounding his every move (and non-move) last season, from fan speculation on a potential transfer to questions back home about where things went wrong.

But Bryant, who admitted to reading about himself online last season -- and who is as clueless as everyone else about how such transfer rumors surfaced -- has come to rely on an improved knowledge base to no longer question himself, or concern himself with those who do.

"I went back home in the spring and they're like, 'Oh man, what happened? You're not the same player that you were before,'" the Delray Beach, Fla., native said. "And like I said, all that stuff, all of that negativity just gave me the hunger now not to go back that way and just to come and make a big impact and show people what I can do, because honestly people are sleeping on me right now, so I'm just hungry."

The 5-foot-10, 204-pound Bryant said he rounded into form on and off the field as the Irish prepared for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl last December. The knee soreness that had flared up after Week 3 at Purdue, and that had required a minor procedure finally subsided, and Bryant had better acclimated himself with the life of a college student and with the less-than-ideal weather at his new home.

Knowing he could not play against Rutgers because of his redshirt status only stoked the eagerness that he now speaks so frequently of. So, too, did watching fellow Florida-born freshman Tarean Folston make a name for himself down the stretch last season, rushing for 470 yards and three touchdowns.

The early departure of George Atkinson III has left Bryant in a healthy three-man race in the backfield, headed by senior and leading returning rusher Cam McDaniel.

"All of us are competitors," Bryant said. "If I see Tarean get the ball, get a 10-yard gain, I'm going to want to get a 20-yard gain. If Cam get a 20-yard gain, I'm going to want to get a 30-yard gain. So it's like we're just so competitive amongst each other."

Bryant says he has gotten faster, adding that he has surprised even himself with the renewed "power" that everyone speaks of. He hopes to be better at catching balls out of the backfield, and he is itching to reach the end zone, saying that he can't remember going an entire year without a touchdown.

"Greg's a tough runner," McDaniel said. "He's very violent when he runs, that's for sure. I think anybody would say that. It's good for him. He's going to be explosive when he gets the ball in his hands."

Having re-adjusted to a game that had no longer come so easy to him, Bryant feels up to speed now, crediting his father, Greg Sr., a former Northern Illinois lineman, along with running backs coach Tony Alford, whom he says is like a father on campus.

As for why he was rudely awakened, and why that won't be a problem moving forward, Bryant turns to familiar terms to describe his mind set heading into his redshirt freshman season.

"It was because when I first got here, like basically Notre Dame humbled me," Bryant said. "Because when I first got here, I thought I was going to come in because Cierre [Wood] and Theo [Riddick], both of them left, [so] I thought I was going to come in and just jump right in the mix right away, but it didn't happen like that. So like my dad told me, when adversity hits you got to basically just -- I don't know, you just got to -- I'm just so hungry right now, it's crazy."

Irish lunch links

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
12:00
PM ET
Does Russia's loss hurt USA's strength of schedule?

Notre Dame mailblog

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
9:00
AM ET
And this year for Christmas, Santa brings … a mailbag!

Frank Serra writes: Who do you feel will be granted a fifth year at ND?

Matt Fortuna: Frank, if I had to guess right now, I'd say Austin Collinsworth and Christian Lombard are the most likely to come back if they want to. Kendall Moore is a possibility as well. As for the others? Lo Wood has already decided to play elsewhere next semester. There are reports of Andrew Hendrix and Alex Welch seeking other options. There is usually a surprise or two every year, but it is tough to say right now who could fit into the picture next season.

Todd from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: Do you put any credence in the theory that on teams with depth that an injury-plagued season, while disappointing, can provide a boost to the next season since younger players got a lot of playing time and experience that they might not have gotten? This could really help on defense and the O-line where multiple starters are moving on. Or am I just trying to desperately put a positive spin on an uneven 2013 campaign?

Matt Fortuna: Todd, nice try. (Kidding.) There are, though, obvious silver linings when younger players are forced to play so quickly. Was it in Notre Dame's best interest to lose two games in November? Of course not. But the fact the Irish were able to compete against strong competition with vastly depleted lines and with young players getting their feet wet certainly should alleviate some concerns about those guys as they enter the 2014 season.

Jeff from Ontario, Canada writes: If Everett Golson gets readmitted to the university, shouldn't he be able to participate in everything with the university (traveling with the team or at least practicing)?

Matt Fortuna: Obviously this question came before Golson was readmitted. But since I've gotten similar questions this month, I'll try to explain it here. Basically Golson has been readmitted to start classes at Notre Dame for the spring semester, so he is not technically a student there until classes resume there on Jan. 12, 2014. So he would not be able to participate as a Notre Dame student-athlete in competition until then, though he is certainly able to pay his own way to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and join his teammates on his own if he would like. (And as Brian Kelly said he may do, considering his girlfriend lives in New York.)

Andrew Sama from South Bend, Ind., writes: Great article on the "Echoes" preview. Definitely agree on TJ Jones for team MVP. Folston and Jaylon Smith should probably be offensive / defensive frosh of the year but honorable mention should go to Corey Robinson. Kid had a great year and got better as the season progressed. Big things ahead for him. Sleeper candidate for defensive POY would be Dan Fox. Led the team in tackles I believe and responded to a mid-season benching like a true team leader, then came back and played his heart out. It would behoove the coaching staff to reward a kid like that with something. Keep up the great work -- Go Irish!Andrew

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Andrew. Prince Shembo ended up winning the defensive player of the year honors, with Fox and Chris Watt sharing the Nick Pietrosante Award (courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication). The honor seems to fit both fifth-year seniors, each of whom had to deal with different problems during their final year at Notre Dame. As you mentioned, Fox led the team in tackles (90) and seemed to turn a corner after it looked like he would lose his starting job to Jarrett Grace. He also played the Mike and Will inside without complaint, and it certainly seemed like he was playing his best ball of the season in November.

William Wheaton from Illinois writes: Hey Matt, diehard Irish fan here! And my question today is concerned with the departure of both offensive and defensive coordinators, who and when are the Irish going to be after. And with the change imminent, what is it going to do to our offense being Everett Golson is back. Will we still be running the pro-style offense that Tommy Rees has been operating this year or will it be the option attack that Everett Golson led us to the title game with?

Matt Fortuna: William, I highly doubt that Kelly would bring in someone with a completely new idea for the offense considering the success he has had throughout his career, though obviously a Kelly offense will ideally look more like the ones he had at Cincinnati, given that he now has a mobile quarterback seemingly tailormade for the role. I would not be surprised if Kelly put Mike Denbrock and/or Tony Alford in charge of the offense full time, and simply hire a new position coach. The bigger concern would probably be finding the right fit on defense, especially with the likely personnel losses about to come on that side of the ball next year, and especially with so many ties between all of the coaches on that side of the ball.

Recapping Friday's 'The Echoes'

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
9:00
AM ET
Brian Kelly's bigger workload was on display already Friday night, when the Notre Dame head coach presented not one, not two, not three, but four different awards during the Irish's awards banquet, named "The Echoes" for the second straight year.

He did say on Saturday, however, that he does not expect any more of his assistants to leave, and that was seemingly confirmed shortly afterward by defensive line coach Mike Elston, whose first-ever tweet was the announcement he's staying at Notre Dame. (There had been some chatter that he could follow Bob Diaco to UConn to become the Huskies' defensive coordinator.)

As for the awards show, TJ Jones took home team MVP honors in a team vote that Kelly said wasn't even close. (Yours truly had predicted Jones as the winner beforehand, just as he had predicted the correct final score of the Stanford game.)

Jones easily took home best-dressed honors on the night, wearing a burgundy suit with a bowtie and some hipster glasses. Corey Robinson and Chris Watt were among the bowtie-wearers as well.

The biggest news, or non-news, of the night came when Stephon Tuitt met with the media afterward, saying he remains undecided on his future.

As for the big winners on Friday...
There was also in-show fan voting for best hit and best catch honors, which went to Tuitt and Jones for their plays against USC.

Alford thankful for support

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
9:00
AM ET
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tony Alford grabbed his phone three different times last week before catching himself. He could no longer call the man he had wanted to speak with, the 39-year-old younger brother he would talk to almost every day. Aaron Alford had died Aug. 12 because of a blood clot.

And while Tony was again reminded of the hole now missing in his life and in the lives of those Aaron had touched, the Notre Dame running backs and slot receivers coach's return to work for what will be his fifth season with the Irish has reminded him of the strong support system he has. And just how badly he wants to carry on in his brother's memory.

[+] EnlargeTony Alford
Robin Alam/Icon SMIIrish assistant coach Tony Alford is grateful for the support he's received in the wake of his brother's death.
"Adversity introduces a man to himself," Tony said. "This is my situation I'm going through, but everybody has something. Every single person in this world has something going on in their lives and this just happens to be mine at this juncture. And my mom and dad raised us a certain way, and I know my brother would say, 'Get your tail back to work.' It is what it is. Doesn't mean I don't think about him all the time. I miss him.

"The sun's going to come up the next day, as it has and will continue to," he added. "That doesn't mean I don't miss him, doesn't mean I don't think about him. But I've got three children to raise myself. Anything that I can do moving forward to help with my three nephews out there in Park City (Utah), I'm going to do that, too. And that's what he would do, too."

Tony, who is also Notre Dame's recruiting coordinator, credited the Irish's staff, administrators and players for their heartfelt support, calling the program members second to none and saying he has learned to not let a day go by without letting people know he cares about them.

Many also used Twitter to reach out to Tony, who took the time to respond to hundreds of individual wishes during his six days away from campus to tend to his family.

Tony called Aaron a selfless person, saying he had a habit of delivering positive messages to everyone he met, something Tony hopes can live on through those Aaron knew.

Aaron was an assistant coach and athletic director at Park City High School and a former assistant at seven different colleges, including Colorado State, where both he and Tony played. The brothers were able to coach against each other in 2010 when Aaron, then the running backs coach at Utah, came to Notre Dame Stadium with the Utes and lost 28-3.

That memory has not been lost on big brother as the excitement of another season approaches.

"Are you kidding me? We play in a week, right? Yeah, I'm excited," Tony said of this campaign. "Don't get me wrong, I love my brother. That doesn't mean I don't want to play and win and compete. That's what we do. Remember, a few years ago we played against my brother and beat the mess out of him, and that was a good thing. But oh yeah, it's time to go play ball."
Tony Alford will be back with Notre Dame on Sunday, six days after the death of his brother, the Irish assistant tweeted.

Alford's brother, Aaron, died Monday of what reports say was an apparent heart attack. Aaron Alford, 39, was a football assistant and athletic director at Park City (Utah) High School and a former college assistant at seven different schools, including Colorado State, where both he and Tony Alford played.

Tony Alford, Notre Dame's running backs and slot receivers coach, took to Twitter on Tuesday to respond individually to the large number of fans, colleagues and media members who offered their condolences to the fifth-year Irish assistant.

A viewing for Aaron Alford will be held Friday, with a memorial celebration the following day, according to the Park Record.

Irish lunch links

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
12:00
PM ET
"Clear History" = an extended episode of "Curb" ... which is exactly what I'd been missing the last two years.
Running backs and slot receivers coach Tony Alford has been excused from Notre Dame and his return is uncertain following the death of his brother.

Aaron Alford died Monday of an apparent heart attack, according to multiple reports. He was 39.

Aaron Alford was a football assistant coach and athletic director at Park City (Utah) High School. He had previously held college assistant coaching jobs at Utah, Akron, Wyoming, Western Illinois, Southern Utah, Kent State and Colorado State. He played defensive back for Colorado State in the 1990s.

Tony Alford also graduated from Colorado State. He has been at Notre Dame since 2009, and is the lone holdover from Charlie Weis' staff.

The Alford brothers coached against each other in 2010, when Utah visited Notre Dame Stadium.

Aaron Alford leaves behind a wife and three kids -- one of whom, Eli, plays at Park City.
Notre Dame returns to the practice field Wednesday morning after a week off for the Easter holiday. Five sessions are in the bag and 10 remain, including the April 20 Blue-Gold spring game.

Like every team every season, the Irish are welcoming new faces in several new places. Among the biggest for the program heading into the 2013 season are at running back, center and Mike linebacker.

Here is a look at how those battles are shaping up as spring practice No. 6 takes place today.

RUNNING BACK
[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III
Matt Cashore/US PresswireIrish coaches have talked up George Atkinson III in the chase for playing time at running back.
This is, frankly, a blanket term for a backfield that will likely feature more than one person at a time throughout much of the coming season. But the Irish did lose their top two rushers in Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, and with (at least) a strong left side of the offensive line returning, it will be interesting to see how the unit shakes out. Rising junior George Atkinson III has the most experience among returners, and head coach Brian Kelly and position coach Tony Alford have been high on him so far this spring, praising his weight training (he's up seven pounds, to 217) and ability to catch the ball in the slot. Can Atkinson be the typical 20-carries-per-game, between-the-tackles back? Will it matter? USC transfer Amir Carlisle also drew plenty of praise in the same role this spring before the rising redshirt sophomore suffered a broken collarbone March 23. Rising junior Cam McDaniel and rising redshirt freshman William Mahone are back there as well, and the program will welcome in talented prospects Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston this summer, at least one of whom may be primed to make an immediate impact.

From Brett Perotta of the ESPN Stats & Information blog, citing seven signees in college football who will make an immediate impact in 2013:
RB Greg Bryant, Notre Dame

Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are gone, leaving a vacancy in the backfield and over 300 carries to go around. Bryant is the first top-10 running back the Irish have signed since James Aldridge in 2006. Notre Dame posted a respectable 4.9 yards per carry as a team last season and will return three starters on the offensive line. With returning dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson, Bryant should have plenty of room to work.
CENTER
So much of how Notre Dame's offensive line shakes out will depend on this position battle. With fifth-year seniors Zack Martin and Chris Watt back manning the left side of the line, and with redshirt junior Christian Lombard seemingly back for Year 2 as the starting right tackle, the Irish need to identify Braxston Cave's successor in the middle. Redshirt sophomore Nick Martin, Zack's younger brother, was running with the first team during the start of the first spring practice, March 20, and figures to have the inside track there right now. Nick Martin served as something of a utility man on the second-team line throughout last season. Redshirt sophomore Matt Hegarty, cleared following a November mini-stroke that threatened his football career, should give Martin a push here as well. Right guard is the other open position battle, and if Kelly or position coach Harry Hiestand deem tackle sophomore Ronnie Stanley or early enrollee Steve Elmer ready, there is always the chance that Lombard could slide to right guard.

MIKE LINEBACKER
Jarrett Grace was talked about a lot last spring by the coaching staff but, frankly, just was not needed so much in 2012. Not with Manti Te'o having the kind of season he had, recording seven interceptions en route to a Heisman Trophy runner-up campaign that saw him rarely leave the field. Now that position is vacant following three consecutive 100-tackle seasons, and Grace, a redshirt sophomore, has the inside track to take over inside. Fifth-year senior Dan Fox, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, is capable of playing both inside positions, and fellow fifth-year senior Carlo Calabrese has resumed his role as the Will linebacker after splitting duties there with Fox the past two seasons. No one should expect anything resembling Te'o's All-America-type run from the position so soon, but with starters, and depth, returning at every other linebacker spot, the Mike is the position to keep an eye on during the offseason.
Spring ball is one week from today. Our series continues with the running backs.

Starters returning: None
Players returning: George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, William Mahone
Players departing: Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood
Newcomers: Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston (both enroll this summer)

The breakdown: This is likely the most interesting position battle, one that should produce some intriguing competition through the spring, fall camp and likely even into the 2013 season. Atkinson and McDaniel are the only two with experience at Notre Dame, though whether either can assume the No. 1, 15-to-20-carry-a-game role is a question mark. Atkinson carried it 51 times for 361 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, while adding two catches for 4 yards. McDaniel made the most of limited action, netting 125 yards and a score on 23 carries, adding two catches for 41 yards. Both players figure to be split to the slot as well, as that is what running backs/slot receivers coach Tony Alford looks for in a back, something Riddick provided last season. We'll see if either's kick-returning duties interfere with their action in the backfield as well. After notching two touchdowns in 2011, Atkinson averaged 20 yards on 22 kick returns in 2012, while McDaniel averaged 19.3 on seven returns.

Carlisle is one to watch as well. As a true freshman at USC in 2011, he carried the ball 19 times for 118 yards and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. The NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately last season, but a broken ankle suffered before spring ball ultimately forced the staff to use the redshirt option on him. Mahone also redshirted last season, his true freshman year. The 5-foot-10, 211-pound Mahone was an ESPN four-star prospect coming out of Austintown Fitch (Ohio) High School in 2012.

Then there are the summer enrollees, Bryant and Folston. Bryant, a one-time Oklahoma commit, would appear to possess all the tools necessary to become an every-down No. 1 back, but he will have a lot of ground to make up early. ESPN ranks the 5-foot-11, 197-pound American Heritage (Fla.) High School back as the nation's No. 2 prospect at the position. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Folston is a four-star back, and ESPN's No. 66 player overall, out of Cocoa (Fla.) High School.

Irish lunch links

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
1:30
PM ET

Notre Dame signing day superlatives

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
9:00
AM ET

National signing day 2013 is in the books. Let's take a closer look at what the Irish newcomers mean for the program moving forward.

Biggest winner of signing day: We'll just go ahead and call the program a winner here. Notre Dame made it to the national title game in 2012, landed the nation's No. 4 recruiting class and returns upward of 15 starters to a team coming off a 12-1 season. All of those questions the past 24 years of whether the Irish could still succeed in today's college football climate have been put to rest, and the program is in great position to be, at the very least, a BCS-bowl contender year-in and year-out.

Best closer: Tony Alford thrived in his first year as the Irish's recruiting coordinator, helping them land Oklahoma decommit and ESPN 150 running back Greg Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./American Heritage) and ESPN 150 athlete Tarean Folston (Cocoa, Fla./Cocoa) late in the recruiting calendar.

Biggest surprise: Five-star defensive tackle and USC decommit Eddie Vanderdoes (Auburn, Calif./Placer) chose Notre Dame over Alabama and UCLA on Wednesday night, giving the Irish ESPN's No. 1 defensive tackle, No. 10 overall prospect and one more elite talent to a recruiting class that was already the best in the Brian Kelly era.

Who flipped/biggest loss: Four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing) enrolled at Florida in early January during Kelly's flirtation with the NFL. Anzalone, who decommitted from Ohio State before decommitting from Notre Dame, is an elite talent who would have had the chance to compete for immediate playing time. That being said, the fact he is the only piece the Irish lost during Kelly's silence is fairly impressive and a testament to the staff as a whole.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Notre Dame To Hold Out Another Player Due To Probe
Matt Fortuna discusses Eilar Hardy being held out of practice and games as Notre Dame continues its internal investigation into academic misconduct.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

FBS INDEP. SCOREBOARD

Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30