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Edmonds: What I’m thankful for from this unprecedented season

| Friday, November 27, 2020

As we packed our bags, finished the last of our finals and made our returns home, the reality of this 10-week break is setting in. What am I supposed to do without my daily hot chocolate run to Au Bon Pain? Thankfully, we have Notre Dame athletics to keep us connected. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to offer aspects of Notre Dame football that I’m particularly grateful for.

 

Ian Book’s consistency

I was a doubter. When Book took the reins two years ago against Wake Forest, he felt like a filler — someone who would slip into Irish lore as another three-star has-been. Boy, was I wrong! Book has cemented himself as one of the most successful Irish quarterbacks of the modern era in the same way he does everything — with a quiet, disciplined confidence.

For much of his career, his contributions have been minimized as a result of dynamic running backs and star receivers. While true, Book has consistently proven that his greatest skillset — game management — might just be the glue to Notre Dame’s return to relevance. On the cusp of passing Jimmy Clausen for the second-most total yards passed in a gold helmet, Book has led the Irish to an incredible 27-3 record as the starter. It hasn’t always been pretty. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. Sometimes it’s a stretched-out arm into the end zone over Virginia Tech to squeak out the win. But a win is a win and Ian Book is a winner at Notre Dame.

John Quackenbos | Boston College Athletics
Irish graduate student quarterback Ian Book scrambles for a gain during Notre Dame’s 45-31 win over Boston College on Nov. 14. Book has rushed for 411 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Daelin Hayes’ leadership

The soul-searching and reckoning that have swept the country in response to the killing of George Floyd have given rise to new voices and leaders as grassroots activists. These conversations that question the history and current state of race in the United States extend to virtually every aspect of our lives. At the intersection of higher education and athletics, you’ll find Daelin Hayes.

A graduate student and captain, Hayes emerged as a key leader in the team’s support of Black Lives Matter, leading a rally for Juneteenth and ensuring that the conversation doesn’t fizzle with the commencement of the season. He’s gracefully and constructively highlighted the reality of race at Notre Dame, a community that despite advocating to be “a force for good” has a history of ducking these sometimes uncomfortable but necessary conversations. I would be remiss to not acknowledge Hayes’ monster season, including a monster second-down sack over Clemson in the second overtime.

John Quackenbos | Boston College Athletics
Irish graduate student defensive end Daelin Hayes (center) jumps in the air to celebrate a defensive stop alongside senior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (left) and freshman cornerback Clarence Lewis (right). Hayes recorded his first two sacks of the season against Georgia Tech and followed that up with another in double overtime to help seal a win against Clemson.

Brian Kelly’s growth 

This one might be the hardest to admit, but credit where credit is due. I’ve never been shy about my criticism of Brian Kelly, primarily in regard to his leadership and off-the-field demeanor. It’s hard to forget the lack of responsibility he displayed throughout the 4-8 2016 season. But over the past four years, Kelly has evolved as a leader, accepting responsibility and placing greater trust in his players and coaching staff. Look no farther than Book and Hayes.

Notorious for creating unnecessary “quarterback controversy,” Kelly has demonstrated patience developing Book and given him latitude to make mistakes and trust his instincts. Similarly, as the team navigates these tough conversations, Kelly has continued to allow space for Hayes and the other leaders of the “Rally” movement to process and share their experiences.

 

The ACC

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was conference-less and you welcomed me into your conference…? Close enough!

While I personally will never jump on board the Notre Dame needs to join a conference train, this season would not be possible without the ACC. With each announcement of a conference either deciding not to play or to only play within their conference, the writing on the wall became clearer — Notre Dame was about to be left out. But can you even have a college football season without Notre Dame?

The ACC has not only provided a necessary number of games, but they’ve also been surprisingly competitive and given the Irish a legit shot at the College Football Playoff. Despite the elephant in the room — the one-year status of this agreement and the nearly certain outcome that Notre Dame returns to their usual rivalries as an independent — the ACC deserves a big round of applause.

 

Now on a most personal note. This past year has been incredibly challenging for everyone. As COVID-19 continues to ravage communities, unemployment leaves hundreds of thousands of people wondering how they’re going to pay their bills and neighbors feel more divided than ever, any moment of optimism was cherished. Sports are not a cure-all. In fact, this year they weren’t even an escape. They were something much more than that.

Sports were a chance to recognize the great challenges we’ve endured this past year and celebrate the little successes. College campuses were no different. You’d be hard-pressed to find a student in South Bend who didn’t consider this hands-down their most stressful semester, balancing all the usual academic and social pressures with the added responsibility of ensuring the safety of the community at large. All you had to do was watch that field-storming following the Clemson game to see the unbridled, raw emotional release of the student body.

It wasn’t without its flaws. But every Saturday, we had a chance to celebrate the fact that we’re there together, despite it all. That celebration was most evident at my final game in the stadium as a student. In what is arguably the weirdest senior year, Notre Dame football gave us perhaps the greatest single moment on campus since 1993. For that — and so much more — I thank you.

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