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Leftovers & Links: Where Notre Dame was and is -- Captains

Clemson v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 07: Wide receiver Avery Davis #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass in the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium on November 7, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Clemson 47-40 in double overtime. (Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)

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Last year’s set of Notre Dame captains had to help the Irish navigate a pandemic, speaking out against systemic racism and the only season of conference membership in 133 years of program history. It was no coincidence four of the five were graduate students and the fifth was a four-year starter.

There should be more variety in 2021, but the driving sentiment expressed when selected as a captain will not change. Daelin Hayes was never at a shortage for words in his five years at Notre Dame — part of why he was voted a captain after leading the Irish march on Juneteenth — but he stumbled with repetition when asked what it meant to lead his team.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been anything in my life that I’ve been more proud of, aside from choosing to come to Notre Dame,” Hayes said in September. “This is, when you choose to come to a place like this, that’s so special and to be given the opportunity to serve your teammates as a captain, your organization, your University, it’s a great honor. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

The Irish may no longer have a player with the off-field heft and dynamism as Hayes — more a deserved compliment of his charismatic and passionate presence than a knock on the current roster — but a few possibilities come to mind to serve as the 2021 captains:

The quarterback-turned-cornerback-turned-running back-turned-receiver (did I miss any?) has done whatever he could in his five years to serve the team as best as possible. Giving up on his quarterback aspirations so quickly took undeniable humility, and he showed it when acknowledging what he felt he had lost after that sophomore Blue-Gold Game.

But Davis brings more than humility in his credentials. Players who bounce around from position to position to position to position rarely become viable contributors. Davis’ back-to-back clutch catches to force overtime against No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7 established him as the most viable of contributors, and he will reach this spring practice as the presumed starter at slot receiver.

Humility and perseverance have brought Davis not only success but credibility in the locker room.

With 25 starts already in his 50 games played, Hinish returns as Notre Dame’s most experienced player and the defensive tackle should inevitably end up with the Irish record for games played. (The current record is believed to be 53, held by Hayes.) A blue-collar worker that espouses the values of Pittsburgh, Hinish leads by example without needing recognition aside from his creative and liberal uses of eye black.

Defensive tackle should be Notre Dame’s defensive strength in 2021 — putting Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa into this conversation, as well — and there is obviously a direct correlation between on-field impact and locker-room deference.

White was once an example of what not to do. A skiing injury during spring break cost him the 2019 spring practices and, well, injured him, limiting his initial strength and conditioning work that summer. Not to outlaw physical recreation among college athletes, but that risk-taking was not the smart move for someone hoping to break into the playing rotation.

Yet, White recovered such that he became a two-year starter, soon to be a three-year starter. Going from underrated recruit — one initially sought by a defensive coordinator fired early in the 2016 season, that is, four defensive coordinators ago — to multi-year starter is not a default for captainship, but it illustrates the development that the Irish depend upon, much the same way defensive end Ade Ogundeji did a year ago.

Kyle Hamilton Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 16: Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the second quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 16, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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And sometimes a captain is named simply because the player is thaät good. The Notre Dame coaching staff named DeShone Kizer a captain before he declared for the NFL draft because if he returned, his talent alone rendered it appropriate. Jaylon Smith was a captain in 2015 in part because it would have been inconceivable to have a three-year starter and a possible No. 1 overall draft pick come through the program without the honor.

While Irish head coach Brian Kelly has made a player vote the determining factor for captainship during this four-year resurgence, Hamilton’s on-field excellence should make him a leading vote-getter.

A year without a Notre Dame offensive lineman as a captain would make 2021 more abnormal than 2020. With only one returning starter, consider Patterson a near-lock.

And that gets us to five, a strong number for these considerations, even if rising junior running back Kyren Williams’ on-field exuberance and bullheadedness may make him a prime thought, as well.

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