SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Cam McDaniel might lead Notre Dame in carries and rushing yards, but he's likely more famous for his "Blue Steel" pose in a photo that went viral last week.
It's been a weird year for McDaniel, at least in terms of what he's known for. Before the viral photo, there was the shot of him running the wrong way into a gauntlet machine during fall camp that made the rounds online.
All the preseason hype centered around George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle and Greg Bryant, but McDaniel has emerged as Notre Dame's top running back through eight games. That's something that comes as no surprise to Joe McBride, who coached McDaniel during his high school days in Coppell, Texas.
"He's got way too much passion and drive in his DNA to be just another guy," McBride said in a phone interview this week. "I've heard so many people call him like a Rudy and all that — he ain't Rudy because he's got tremendous ability with his kind of heart and determination."
McDaniel admitted earlier in the year he hasn't been able to tune out the naysayers, the people who looked at him and figured he'd never make it at Notre Dame. But McDaniel has certainly been effective this year, leading Notre Dame with 91 carries for 412 yards, and his two touchdowns tie for the team-high among running backs.
He has more than double the carries of Carlisle and has 10 or more rushing attempts in all six of Notre Dame's wins. He's been more than just a late-game clock-eater, too: He's averaged over five yards per carry in Notre Dame's last three games, rushing for 82, 92 and 61 yards in those contests, respectively.
"For some reason, he's tagged as just a tough, overachiever kind of guy," McBride said. "I think he's as athletic as anybody. And when you take that athleticism, along with great hands and great running vision and great toughness, you got a complete back."
McDaniel's mantra is to "train like an underdog so you can play like a champion" — a quote he attributed to Michael Jordan, but a Google search could only connect it to a suspended Twitter account posing as Jordan.
Either way, it's the mentality he's taken. It's helps, too, that coming into this year he was generally viewed as an actual underdog in Notre Dame's backfield.
"I think that kind of sums up playing with a chip on your shoulder," McDaniel said. "It's not just when you go out in games, that's just where you perform, and that's where you prove everybody wrong. But it starts in the preparation, from offseason to summer to camp and then every day in practice."
McBride saw that same drive when McDaniel was at Coppell — and he certainly wasn't an underdog there.
"If he was playing tiddlywinks it'd be the same way," McBridge analogized. "He'd want to be the greatest tiddlywinks player ever."
Part of McDaniel's drive leads him to run physically, always pushing for the extra yard. Of course, that means his helmet pops off from time to time — it's a problem that's dated back to his high school days. And it just so happened that when his helmet flew off against USC, a Getty Images photographer snapped a photo of him that went viral.
That photo made it into Notre Dame's locker room to razz the junior running back a bit, and he made an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" last week. While the fame may be fleeting — like all Internet memes — it's still fame.
And like McDaniel's success on the field, McBride isn't surprised his former running back got those 15 seconds of fame.
"That kind of kid is going to be a high achiever," McBride said. "He's going to be in the spotlight somehow, however it is."