Head coach Brian Kelly's stamp on his team's second annual Awards Show format (rather than formal banquet dinner) was evident: few speeches (though no one was stopping senior Brandon Newman from a few joking words: "I'd like to thank the offensive linemen for pushing me"), ample behind-the-scenes interviews and video, and of course, plenty of action highlights to keep the extended (approximately two hours) show entertaining for the friends, families, and program supporters in attendance.
With the exception of newly-minted UMass head coach Charley Molnar, presentations of awards and words of thanks to support staff and myriad folks behind the scenes were made by each member of the Irish coaching staff and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick.
Swarbrick delivered what was likely the funniest line of the evening. First noting the four helmets (each a different version worn this season) that surrounded the podium below, Swarbrick jokingly offered, "You'd be amazed how many emails are generated by helmets…actually you'd be amazed how many emails are generated by Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train." (A tongue-in-cheek reference to the wildly overplayed third-down theme song employed by the team's sound system operator vs. USC this year.)
The show concluded with a stirring and emotional video tribute and words of reminiscence from the graduating parents of the team's 39 scholarship and walk-on seniors.
The program's three-most revered awards were won by upperclassmen: Michael Floyd took home the 45th annual Monogram Club MVP award. Floyd became the 10th player since the awards inception (1967) to earn the honor more than once in his Irish career. Listed runner-ups for the award determined by team vote included junior tight end Tyler Eifert and 5th-year senior Harrison Smith.
Junior Manti Te'o was named the Rockne Student-Athlete winner. Te'o was named an Academic All-American earlier this week.
And perhaps the team's most important honor was bestowed upon Smith, who earned the Nick Pietrosante Award honoring the student-athlete who best exemplified the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Notre Dame All-America fullback who died of cancer in 1988.
2011 Team AwardsThough most awards were earned via vote by players or coaches, the Special Teams Player of the Year award presented to safety Austin Collinsworth was determined through a point system that included all relevant statistics, plus big hits and hustle plays deemed by the coaching staff.
Collinsworth compiled 15 special teams tackles, the most for an Irish player in three years Mike Anello (23 in 2008) and second-highest total this decade.
Collinsworth's honor included a championship belt – the type often adorned by heavyweight champions and professional wrestlers.
"I'm going to wear it around campus," Collinsworth jokingly told Irisheyes.com after the show, pantomiming Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers actions after Packers touchdowns.
Debuting this season was the Back of the Year award. With quarterbacks, running backs, and defensive backs eligible, the inaugural award was received by senior cornerback Robert Blanton.
Awards instituted by Kelly last season include the Next Man In, Offensive and Defensive Scout Team Players of the Year, the Offensive and Defensive Newcomers of the Year (loosely defined this year, as you'll notice below) and the Special Teams Player of the Year.
Monogram Club Most Valuable Player: Senior wide receiver Michael Floyd
Nick Pietrosante Award: 5th-year senior safety Harrison Smith
Back of the Year: Senior cornerback Robert Blanton
Guardian of the Year: Junior offensive tackle Zack Martin (repeat winner)
Lineman of the Year: Senior linebacker (4-3 DE) Darius Fleming
Next Man In: Junior wide receiver Robby Toma (Runner-up: senior safety Jamoris Slaughter)
Rockne Student-Athlete: Junior linebacker Manti Te'o
Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Freshman quarterback Everett Golson (Runner-up: freshman wide receiver Matthias Farley)
Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Senior defensive lineman Brandon Newman (Runner-up: sophomore linebacker Justin Utupo)
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Senior running back Jonas Gray (Runner-up: Junior offensive guard Chris Watt)
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Junior linebacker Dan Fox (Runner-up: freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch)
Special Teams Player of the Year: Sophomore safety Austin Collinsworth