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Leftovers & Links: Handing out Notre Dame’s annual awards

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game Semifinal Game - Notre Dame v Alabama

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 01: Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) passes during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Rose Bowl Game between Notre Dame and Alabama on January 1, 2021 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With no break between the regular season and Christmas, let alone the Playoff semifinal, Notre Dame did not hold its annual awards banquet (ECHOES) in mid-December like usual. Since the players will not return to campus for another couple weeks, it is quite possible there will not be an awards banquet at any point, even a spaced-out, team-only event.

Of course, that makes complete sense given the peak of the coronavirus pandemic may have (hopefully) finally arrived.

That does not mean some awards should not be given out. The Irish may yet do so, particularly as the social media content machine always needs to be fed, but until they do so …

Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year, Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year, Special Teams Player of the Year, Walk-On Players Union Award: The lack of an awards banquet may actually hurt most here. There is no chance at speculating on the appropriate recipients, but those revelations usually inform future successes. Exhibit A: Linebacker Bo Bauer was named the 2019 Special Teams Player of the Year, hinting at how the coaching staff appreciated his all-out efforts, even if they sometimes came with the expense of exuberance. A year later, Bauer was an underrated piece of Notre Dame’s passing-down sub-package.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Freshman tight end Michael Mayer finished the season tied for the team lead in catches with 42, second in receiving yards with 450 and tied for third in receiving touchdowns with a pair. As senior right tackle Robert Hainsey said after the Rose Bowl loss, “Mike, seeing you step in as a young guy, I did the same thing. It was a blast, and seeing you excel and do that stuff is what made this season so much fun.”Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Graduate transfer cornerback Nick McCloud exceeded any and all expectations from his pandemic-delayed arrival from North Carolina State. He was always a presumed starter, but his becoming Notre Dame’s top cornerback and a possible draft pick was a key piece to making the 2020 defense tick.

Offensive Impact of the Year: Fifth-year receiver Javon McKinley’s 42 catches for 717 yards and three touchdowns — all three coming in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium in a 45-21 win against Syracuse — were all that kept the Irish offense from becoming too one-dimensional to survive the regular season unscathed. Not to mention, his fingertips catch to vault Notre Dame into scoring position just after Clemson tied up the November game will long remain one of the most unexpected clutch plays in recent history. (If the possession had not ended in a fumble through the end zone, the 45-yard snag would be better remembered yet.)

Javon McKinley remarkable catch

Notre Dame’s Javon McKinley makes a diving catch in the second half of No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 1 Clemson in Notre Dame Stadium.

Notre Dame Athletics

Defensive Impact of the Year: Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton led Notre Dame with 63 tackles including 51 unassisted tackles, adding six pass breakups. The only reason he did not lead the Irish in that latter category, or build on his one interception, is that opposing quarterbacks knew to throw away from him more often than not. Finishing his sophomore season as a first-team All-American sets lofty expectations for Hamilton’s final season in South Bend.

Next Man In: In a season defined by a pandemic, Notre Dame was relatively healthy throughout. So as to not draw much attention to the pandemic on a night of celebration, it is likely the Irish would not have handed this award to sophomore linebacker Jack Kiser for his showing against South Florida, when he went from scout team-to-starter just hours before kickoff due to pandemic protocols.

Instead, the only traditional injury that befell a starter was a foot injury to center Jarrett Patterson, at which point sophomore center Zeke Correll only impressed.

Moose Krause Lineman of the Year: Consensus first-team All-Americans Aaron Banks and Liam Eichenberg would likely have split this honor at an ECHOES ceremony, and fittingly so, being they manned the left side of the Notre Dame line in a way befitting a growing tradition.Defensive Lineman of the Year: Leading the Irish with seven sacks gives this nod to fifth-year defensive end Ade Ogundeji, conveniently so as part of the blueprint for the awards ceremony is to not honor players twice in a year and to focus awards on outgoing seniors. With both defensive tackles Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa returning in 2021 — Hinish taking advantage of the pandemic eligibility waiver while Tagovailoa-Amosa fits in an expected fifth year to make up for losing 2018 to a broken foot — only Ogundeji needs to be singled out here.

Pietrosante Award for leadership, teamwork, etc.: Part of why only Ogundeji needs to be acknowledged in the previous category is fifth-year defensive end Daelin Hayes would assuredly receive this honor, the result of both a driven athletic career capped off with a solid final season as a response to 2019 getting cut short with a shoulder injury and a motivated off-field career, particularly leading Notre Dame’s Juneteenth rally and furthering that needed voice all season long.

Daelin Hayes Juneteenth

Offensive Player of the Year: Sophomore running back Kyren Williams could have won the Offensive Newcomer of the Year designation if not for the impetus to avoid handing two awards to one player, and this is the recognition most appropriate for the breakout ball carrier who gained 1,125 yards in 12 games and ran for 13 touchdowns.Defensive Player of the Year: Is there any question? The best linebacker in the country, arguably the best defensive player in the country, a unanimous All-American, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Monogram Club Most Valuable Player: Just like the Heisman, quarterbacks should not always win the MVP, hence receiver Chase Claypool winning it in 2019, but Ian Book should win his second Notre Dame MVP award (2018). In the literal sense, without Book, the Irish would have turned to an unheralded freshman to helm their offense. In the records sense, Book goes down as the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame’s 133 years of history.

“He’s a winner, he’s won more games than any quarterback in Notre Dame history, period, end of discussion,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after the New Year’s Day loss. “The guy’s a winner and we’re going to miss him. He just wins football games, and there is no other story, just a winner.”

If there is an award that will almost assuredly eventually be dispensed, it is the Monogram MVP. The rest, well, again, social media’s content hole needs to be filled these next few weeks and naming a player each day may end up filling that gap.

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Things We Learned: Freeman hire underscores Kelly’s run of success in building Notre Dame’s staff

OUTSIDE READING:For epidemiology experts who are college football fans, this season often was painful to watchA ruthlessly exploitative college football season finally draws to a closeWas the 2020 college football season worth it?As college football reaches finish line during pandemic, was it all worth it?The Invisible ChampionshipSeason grades for every college football team in 2020NFL scouting combine to be drastically altered due to COVID-192021 NFL Draft: PFF’s top 100 big board13 non-conference games to look forward to in 2021

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