Fifth-year senior Harrison Smith earned his greatest collegiate honor to date when he was named co-captain of the 2011 squad by head coach Brian Kelly last February. He’s since added two pre-season nominations to his list of off-field accomplishments, the most recent as a member of the 35-person Jim Thorpe Award watch list honoring the nation’s top defensive back.
Missing from the list, classmate Gary Gray. The rugged 5th-year senior ranked as IrishEyes' No. 3 overall player on last year's squad, winning a pair of defensive MVP awards (Purdue and Western Michigan) while finishing third on the squad in tackles (66) with 5 for lost yardage; the latter number serving as the third-highest by an Irish cornerback over the last 10 seasons.
Tuesday saw Manti Te’o receive his third pre-season honor. The junior linebacker was named to the Lombardi Watch List, one that included a whopping 125 players. Te’o was previously named to watch lists for both Defensive Player of the Year honors: the aforementioned Bronco Nagurski Award as well as the Chuck Bednarik Award.
Smith joined Te'o last week to the Bronco Nagurski Award watch list.
Five Notre Dame opponents appeared on the Thorpe Watch list:
- Trenton Robinson: Michigan State free safety had five tackles and a pass break-up vs. the Irish last season.
- T.J. McDonald: The USC redshirt-sophomore missed most of last year’s matchup with the Irish after suffering an early shoulder injury.
- Kenny Tate: Will play an OLB/FS hybrid role for new head coach, Randy Edsall.
- Donnie Fletcher: Boston College cornerback has 16 tackles, an interception, and a pass break-up over the last two games vs. Notre Dame.
- Delano Howell Stanford strong safety recorded a team-high 12 tackles vs. the Irish in last year’s Cardinal victory.
No Notre Dame player has taken home the honor in the Thorpe Award’s 25-year history, though cornerback Todd Lyght was a finalist as a junior in 1989 as was cornerback Bobby Taylor in his sophomore season, 1993.
Notre Dame has had a player nominated for seven pre-season watch lists to date: The Groza Award (David Ruffer, who was a finalist last season); Lombardi (Te’o), Nagurski (Te’o, Smith), Bednarik (Te’o), Outland Trophy (Zack Martin), the Biletnikoff (Michael Floyd) and the Maxwell Award (Floyd and Dayne Crist).
Remaining watch lists to be announced each weekday through Monday, July 18 include the Rimington Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker Awards (Friday), and the Walter Camp Trophy next Monday.
Te'o is a lock for a Butkus nomination while center Braxston Cave is a likely Rimington candidate (Outstanding Center) and Cierre Wood could appear on the Doak Walker list (Top Running Back). Floyd is the team's best pre-season bet for a Walter Camp Award nomination, honoring the nation’s best player.