Cam McDaniel shares in your excitement over sophomore-to-be running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. But the elder statesman of Notre Dame’s potentially dynamic rushing attack includes himself in the excitement.
“I’m versatile enough to thrive in any situation,” said the 5-foot-10, 207-pounder out of Coppell, Texas.
“Personally, stepping into that leadership role is going to be big. (I need) to be a part of making plays and making myself as versatile as possible.”
In Folston and Bryant, the Irish have the makings of a big-time rushing attack for years to come. In McDaniel, the Irish have the ringleader of a running game that is ready to expand and become a more stable, consistent foundation for Brian Kelly’s spread attack.
While Bryant was preserving a year of eligibility and tending to knee issues, Folston emerged over the final six games of the 2013 season, rushing for 401 yards and a 5.2-yard average with three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, McDaniel became Mr. Reliable, excelling a majority of the time and playing a supporting role when the situation dictated. Eight times in 2013, McDaniel led the team in rushing - 12-for-65 yards against Temple, 16-for-56 yards versus Purdue, 16-for-40 yards against Michigan State, 15-for-82 yards versus Arizona State, 18-for-97 yards against USC, 10-for-61 yards versus Air Force, 24-for-117 yards against BYU, and 17-for-80 yards versus Rutgers.
Notre Dame’s record versus the eight teams in which McDaniel paced the Irish on the ground: 8-0. Notre Dame’s record against the five teams in which McDaniel did not lead the team in rushing: 1-4.
While there is a fair amount of happenstance to those statistics, it’s just as clear that McDaniel remains the driving force and the leader of the Irish running game, despite the immense talent possessed by his younger running back brethren.
“For me, leadership is natural,” said McDaniel, who finished his junior season with a team-high 705 yards, a 4.6-yard average and three touchdowns. “It’s just stepping into a position to be a standard bearer for the team.”
While conventional wisdom says that now is the time for McDaniel to step into a leadership role - particularly with the departure of George Atkinson III and the shifts of Amir Carlisle and Will Mahone to a receiving complement -- McDaniel’s standard-setting role began the day he arrived from Coppell High School, where he rushed for 1,906 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior.
“Leadership doesn’t start when you’re a senior; it starts when you’re a freshman and it starts with the ability to recognize (the importance of leadership),” McDaniel said.
“Even the ability to jump in and follow when you need to follow and observe who’s doing what’s right and who’s doing what’s wrong, and how to build off that going into the next year. So to just jump into a leadership role isn’t really possible. You’ve got to have the tangibles of being a leader, and I feel like that’s something that I carry.”
While McDaniel recognizes the talent that will be pushing him this fall, he’s never been one to shy away from competition or, for that matter, accept that the competition is a superior alternative to himself. It’s just not in his makeup.
If a young Barry Sanders were in Notre Dame’s camp, McDaniel would expect to beat him out, or at least offer a different form of productivity, a complementary piece to the puzzle.
“I need to do whatever I can to be a part of the receiving game,” said McDaniel, offering another asset to the equation.
When McDaniel looks at the collective components around him, he sees great things in 2014.
“In my opinion, I feel like we have the ability to have one of the best running games in the nation this year,” McDaniel said. “With Ev(erett Golson) back as a dual threat and the talent we have in the backfield, I’m just excited for what we’ve got going on and the game plan we’ve got. It feels like it’s going to be a great opportunity for all of us.”
In 13 games last season, Notre Dame’s running backs carried the football 383 carries, or just shy of 30 per game. Over the course of the season, those carries need to be dispersed. With the departure of Atkinson and the shift of Carlisle and Mahone, there are more than enough carries to go around in 2014 among McDaniel, Folston, Bryant and Golson. Ultimately, it comes down to productivity, regardless who offers it.
“We just do what we can to compete during practice and make a stand,” McDaniel said. “The one who performs is the one who’s going to be on the field first most of the time.”
Suffice it to see the Irish will enter 2014 with three capable, productive running backs.
“Coach Kelly never gives a definitive answer for who the starting back is,” McDaniel said. “It’s always, ‘We’ve got four guys that are really talented,’ or ‘we’ve got three guys that are really talented.’
“We’re all going to get carries. We’re all going to participate.”