SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame named three captains on Thursday, but the team's leadership extends well beyond Bennett Jackson, T.J. Jones and Zack Martin.
Last year, Notre Dame had four captains, but there was no questioning who the team's leader was. Manti Te'o was Notre Dame's driving force, the kind of guy who wasn't just a defensive leader, but a pillar for the entire team. Of note: during halftime of Notre Dame's 30-13 win over Oklahoma, Te'o spoke with and instilled confidence in quarterback Everett Golson, who went out and led the Irish to the program's biggest win in nearly two decades.
In 2012, Notre Dame rallied around Te'o. This fall, Notre Dame doesn't have that singular figure — instead, the Irish expect to rally around one another.
"Last year we had some bold personalities — you had a Manti Te'o that had a very bold personality," coach Brian Kelly said. "And sometimes we took on his personality as a team. This one represents more of a group. So every single day this is a group that comes to work every single day with a consistency. So I think that's what I see more than anything else is that I know what I'm going to get from them every single day because it's a deeper group in the sense that there's not just one personality. It's across the board."
For a team loaded with talent, plenty of players described the team's personality as workmanlike and blue-collar. Jackson, Jones and Martin can be vocal, but all three have some degree of that leading-by-example trait. Martin did so last year as a captain, and is the 18th player in Notre Dame history to be a team captain more than once.
"A lot of people that can lead from time to time when it feels convenient or when it feels good or you’re having a good day, but Zack brings it every day and that’s what sets him apart and makes him such a unique and special player," explained offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. "He’s the picture of what an All-American is."
Martin said he's seen Jackson and Jones be more vocal in camp, and both the first-time captains said they don't see their role as changing who they are.
For Jones, though, there's an added fulfillment to be named a captain. Jones' father, Andre, won a national championship with Notre Dame in 1988 and passed away in June of 2011, a few months before the start of his son's sophomore season.
"It means a lot to me," Jones said. "There’s a lot of family ties that I have to Notre Dame, so being named a captain in my last year here and do my family and father justice by going out with a bang, it definitely means a lot to me.”
Beyond the three captains, there are plenty of other upperclassmen who've been pointed out as leaders.
Quarterback Tommy Rees has been more vocal in camp and is as well-respected as anyone in the Notre Dame locker room. Danny Spond, despite having to cut his football career short, will be with Notre Dame throughout the season, traveling with the team and coaching the 'dog' outside linebackers. Louis Nix may be the most vocal player on the team, while Matthias Farley's greater understanding of the defense puts him in a position to lead on that side of the ball as well.
There are plenty of other players in the leadership equation, too. While things will certainly be different this fall, the Irish see everything adding up to not just replacing Te'o's leadership, but evolving from it.
"When you have a whole team that has a similar mindset," Farley said, "you don't have to say a lot and there's a lot of trust there between everybody of just knowing what the expectations are and knowing that everyone is going to give everything that they have to reach that, and nothing has to be said at all. I think that's a very positive thing for our team.”