"Last year we changed the traditional banquet format relative to an awards night," said Irish head coach Kelly of the welcomed change from a banquet/dinner format. "For me, what I wanted to do was recognize our seniors, make sure the night's about our seniors, and do it in a manner where it can be exciting in the sense that there's a lot of video (highlights), a lot of action, interactive if you will, and then awards that our team votes on. And some are picked by the coaches.
"For the large part this will be awards given out by vote by our football team. That's always exciting to see what they think of their own teammates."
And with the exception of the Scout Team Player(s) of the Year, I'm sure we can all agree some should be chosen by Irisheyes.com, too. Below is my educated guess at the winners plus personal choices and runner-up in each category.
Monogram Club Most Valuable PlayerThe final choices are crystal clear, though Manti Te'o, Zack Martin, Cierre Wood, Tyler Eifert, and Robert Blanton were in the running for the Irisheyes.com award at points throughout the season.
Nick Pietrosante AwardGiven to the player who best exemplifies courage, dedication and pride of the late All-America fullback (class of 1954). Pietrosante died of cancer in 1988. Former winners include program legends Anthony Johnson, Chris Zorich, Demetrious Dubose, Aaron Taylor, and Jeff Faine.
Last Year's Winner: Robert Hughes
Irisheyes.com Choice and runner-up: Jonas Gray and Mike Ragone
Predicted Winner: Gray
Greatest All-Time Recipient: Not something that can be judged outside the program walls, but I'll go with Zorich as a player and Aaron Taylor as a friend.
Guardian of the YearInstituted in 1999, former offensive tackle Ryan Harris is the only two-time winner…until this season.
Last Year's Winner: Zack Martin
Irisheyes.com Choice and runner-up: Zack Martin and Braxston Cave
Predicted Winner: Martin
Greatest All-Time Recipient: Jeff Faine 2001
Lineman of the YearThe inaugural award was presented to senior linebacker/DE Robert Banks, by first-year head coach Lou Holtz in 1986. Injuries to starters contributed to the list below, and my choice would be the first true freshman to earn the honor.
Last Year's Winner: Ian Williams
Irisheyes.com Choice and runner-up: Aaron Lynch and Louis Nix
Predicted Winner: Lynch
Greatest All-Time Recipient: I'll go with first-team All-America defensive end and national champion Frank Stams (1988) but Chris Zorich (1990), Aaron Taylor (1993), and Anthony Weaver (2001) are fine choices as well.
Next Man InRobby Toma should receive consideration for his late-year efforts; so too could center Mike Golic. But the pair below contributed at a high level throughout the three-month season. The award was instituted by Kelly last winter.
Rockne Student-Athlete AwardApplying logic: Te'o and Cwynar were Academic All-District choices in November. As a 5th-year player, Ruffer might not be eligible for the honor a second straight season.
Last Year's Winner: David Ruffer
Irisheyes.com Choice and runner-up: Manti Te'o and Sean Cwynar
Predicted Winner: Te'o
Greatest All-Time Recipient: First presented to offensive guard Bob Burger in 1980, the "greatest" is likely two-time winner Greg Dingens (linebacker, 1984-85). Dingens was a three-time Academic All-American; graduated magna cum laude and earned Phi Beta Kappa honors at Notre Dame. He received post-graduate scholarships from the NCAA and the National Football Foundation. He later graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1992. So yeah, I think he wins.
Offensive Scout Team Player of the YearMy choices were gleaned from interviews with coaches, notably Kelly, rather than practice exposure which was not available after August camp this season. The award is in its second season of existence, as are the remaining four listed below.
Defensive Scout Team Player of the YearQuestion: did walk-on safety Chris Salvi spend enough time on the Scout Team to warrant selection? Or did his starter's designation on special teams take away from full Scout Team duties? I suppose we'll find out…
Offensive Newcomer of the YearIs starting left guard Chris Watt (117 snaps last season but no starts) a newcomer? Is Jonas Gray (40 snaps)? Is there a requirement that the competitor possess zero previous playing experience? If so, redshirt-freshman quarterback Andrew Hendrix and center Mike Golic (25 snaps last year) are the only other options. Gray's candidacy seems outside the spirit of the award.
Last Year's Winner: Tyler Eifert
Irisheyes.com Choice and runner-up: Chris Watt and Andrew Hendrix
Predicted Winner: Watt
Defensive Newcomer of the YearThere are three deserving candidates from the defensive line alone...
Last Year's Winner: Prince Shembo
Irisheyes.com Choice and runner-up: Louis Nix and Aaron Lynch
Predicted Winner: Nix for his 10-game starting effort in the middle (and the reality that Lynch will likely win another award).