Notre Dame notes: Kelly explains Wood suspension


Notre Dame notes: Kelly explains Wood suspension

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame will be without its leading returning rusher when the team opens its season Saturday in Dublin, Ireland. And the decision to suspend senior back Cierre Wood was entirely coach Brian Kelly's call.

"This is strictly an independent decision that I made relative to the decisions that those young men made," Kelly said Tuesday. "And they violated the rules that our players know, and the rules that they know every single day about being in this program."

Wood and defensive lineman Justin Utupo are suspended for the Navy and Purdue games, while quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese are suspended for just the Navy game. Last year, Kelly didn't suspend star wideout Michael Floyd for any regular-season games following an arrest for DUI, but he was suspended for most of spring practice. Floyd was reinstated to the team for fall camp Aug. 3, and went on to become a gameday captain by the end of the season.

Kelly lauded Floyd's transformation off the field last season, and hopes the same scenario plays out with his four suspended players for Week 1.

"The ultimate goal is we want them all to turn out like Michael Floyd's situation, where they make life decisions to change the way they are," Kelly said. "And so the ultimate goal is to get -- with any kind of sanctions or any kind of suspensions, we want better citizens. We want more accountable citizens. We want people representing our program in the right way."

With Wood out, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III will take on increased roles in the Notre Dame offense, while running back-turned-cornerback Cam McDaniel has returned to the backfield. However, USC transfer Amir Carlisle will not be available Sept. 1, Kelly said.

Still, the Irish have enough running back depth to shoulder the loss of Wood, especially against a pair of teams that ranked in the bottom third among rushing defenses in 2011.

"You understand that as a head coach with 18 to 22 year olds, that you hope that everybody makes good decisions all the time. I hope my son makes good decisions and my daughter," Kelly said. "I think we all get disappointed, but we also know that they are young and we want them to learn from the mistakes that they made. And in this instance, we are hoping that's the case for Cierre and Justin, I'm very confident that they will learn from their mistakes."

Now lining up at wideouteveryone?

Notre Dame's two-deep depth chart was released this week, and none of the team's talented young pass-catchers were listed as starters. But that hardly means they're pigeon-holed into a No. 2 or No. 3 slot in the X, Y or Z positions.

"You're going to need your media guide as it relates to the wide receiver position, because they are all playing," Kelly said. "Each one of them right now has a different skill set. Nobody is polished to the level where they are a stand alone player at the receiving core other than Tyler Eifert. He's a stand alone player."

There's no single receiver likely to replace Michael Floyd's 2011 numbers -- 100 catches, 1,147 yards, 9 touchdowns. But Kelly is hoping Notre Dame's fairly deep crop of wide receivers -- and a hybrid back in Theo Riddick -- can do the job just as well as one player did in 2011.

"You also have veterans that are going to get an opportunity: John Goodman, we know about Robby Toma; Danny Smith who has been with our program, he's going to get an opportunity to play -- DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, Davonte Neal, and I've probably left out a couple others," Kelly said. "They are all going to have to play collective roles in our offense."

Te'o, Eifert headline Irish captains

Last year, safety Harrison Smith was Notre Dame's only permanent captain, with other players cycling in as gameday captains during the season. In 2012, the Irish will have four captains, all seniors: Manti Te'o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Eifert and Zack Martin.

"What struck me more than anything else was when they got up before their teammates, the things that they said about being a captain at Notre Dame, and in one particular instance, Kapron Lewis-Moore was brought to tears," Kelly said "You love the see the passion and love for Notre Dame, their teammates, and they are great representatives.

"I think that's what I'm most excited about is we have got great leadership, not only amongst our seniors, but our veteran football players, and it's set a great model for our younger players to follow."

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”

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