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DeFranks: Seniors leave mark as winners (Nov. 22)

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, November 21, 2013


This year’s senior class is different.

You have heard this before, though, about how underappreciated a group of seniors is and about how much they have done for the program. You have read about how classes have endured the bumps and bruises, both literally and figuratively.

This year’s senior class is different simply for what they have accomplished.

The 31 Notre Dame seniors have won 35 games in their four seasons, the most since the class of 1995 won 36 games. They will appear in a bowl game in each of their four seasons, also the first class to do so since 1995.

They have been to the BCS National Championship Game. They have beaten USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Miami and Oklahoma. There are no moral victories to take away from this class, just real victories.

But it was not always so easy for this group.

They were the group stuck in limbo after Charlie Weis’ departure. They chose to put their trust, their faith and their careers in the hands of some guy from Central Michigan and Cincinnati. They chose Notre Dame for Notre Dame and not for its coach.

They fought through the trying first half of 2010. They battled through the heartbreakers against USF and Michigan in 2011. They kept going after the embarrassment by Alabama last season. And through it all, they have found a way to win.

This year’s senior class is different because they are, well, different.

The three leading rushers in this class are the backup quarterback, the star receiver and the starting cornerback. The player with the most career sacks is a linebacker. One senior has accounted for 19 of the 25 touchdowns scored by the group.

While the on-field performances are unorthodox, the senior personalities on this team are as unique a blend as any in recent memory.

There is Louis Nix, the All-American nose tackle who makes his mark on Twitter, YouTube and on opposing offensive lines.

Nix is the surefire first-round draft pick who returned for his senior season to earn his degree. Nix is an ear-to-ear grin, a colorful personality and Irish Chocolate. Nix is the 350-pound behemoth who scored a rushing touchdown in the Blue-Gold Game. Nix is the 22-year-old who wants his mother to see him on Saturday.

And he is a senior.

There is TJ Jones, the speedy yet undersized receiver who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a Notre Dame great.

Jones was the freshman who scored in his first career game at Notre Dame. Jones is the one who has changed names from Tai-ler to TJ and roles from slot receiver to deep threat. Jones is the even-keeled pass-catcher who has turned into a Floyd and Eifert-like security blanket. Jones is the consistent performer who has a catch in 37 straight games.

And he is a senior.

And then there is Tommy Rees, the ever-steady and much-maligned quarterback who has ignored the venom spewed his way to secure a 21-7 record as a starter.

Rees was the forgotten quarterback behind Crist and Golson that will always be remembered now. Rees ranks in the top five of nine different Notre Dame career passing categories but only started one season opener. Rees is the soft-spoken yet confident signal caller who brought stability to a program in flux after its starters were injured or dismissed. Rees has been suspended and benched, but remains the leader on offense, the captain without the “C”.

And he is a senior.

This senior class will hit the sign and head out of the tunnel for the final time this weekend, just like the ones before them.

But that does not mean these 31 are not different.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.