football Edit

Notre Dame And No. 25: The High-Speed Connect

Many Notre Dame fall traditions will have to be put on hold if there is to be a 2020 college football season.

One tradition that won’t is who is donning No. 25: Freshman running back Chris Tyree. For nearly 50 years it represents the “speed number” in Fighting Irish football.

In the 11-year Brian Kelly era, Tyree is only the second running back who was ranked as a national top-100 prospect by Rivals, and the first since Greg Bryant in 2013. He also is the first at the position to receive four stars by the outlet since Dexter Williams in 2015.

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Notre Dame freshman running back Chris Tyree sprinting
Chris Tyree’s speed could help him find a role at Notre Dame as a freshman running back in 2020. (USA TODAY Sports)

Most pertinent is the game-breaking speed that Tyree provides. He won the Fastest Man Competition at the prestigious The Opening Finals in both 2018 and 2019 and was a two-time Virginia Class 6A state champion in the 55-meter dash, most recently this past February.

In 2019, his 6.30 in the 55 meters was the swiftest in the United States by a high school athlete. For context purposes, the ultimate Notre Dame standard of speed, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (more on him later), ran a 6.07 with the Fighting Irish track team in 1991, which was the fastest in the United States (if not the world) at the time, and later he finished second in the NCAA Championships.

Tyree provides the “greasy, fast speed” of which fictional trainer Mickey Goldmill waxed poetic in the movie “Rocky II.”

However, Kelly in a Zoom conference with media members this week emphasized that Tyree is not strictly a one-trick pony. Although listed at 5-9½, 179 pounds on the Notre Dame roster, Tyree actually is more in the 190-pound range, per Kelly.

“He’s a lot stronger than we thought in terms of lower-body strength,” Kelly said. “He’s not a specialist who just plays in the slot or gets hand-off sweeps. He’s a guy who can run the football downhill between the tackles, too.

“He’s not going to get 30 carries [in a game] — don’t get me wrong — but he’s going to play as a freshman. He has been impressive.”

At Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Va., Tyree donned the No. 4. At Notre Dame he has been issued No. 25, which is hardly a coincidence. It was worn last year by current junior wide receiver Braden Lenzy, who this year will be sporting No. 0 — which the NCAA passed as now legal earlier this year to cut down on teams having multiple players with single-digit numbers.

Lenzy rivals Tyree as Notre Dame’s swiftest player, and showcased some of his game-breaking skills last year. So when No. 25 was vacated, naturally it had to be issued to Tyree.

It’s been sort of an unwritten tradition since 1973.

Al Hunter (1973, 1975-76)

The freshman running back was advertised as the fastest player to ever enroll at Notre Dame. The metric used back then was not the 40-yard dash, but the 100-yard dash (not to be confused with 100 meters) in which anything under 10 seconds was sizzling.

Hunter was listed with a 9.3 time, and his explosiveness was showcased in the 24-23 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in which he returned a kickoff for a 93-yard touchdown on which color commentator Bud Wilkinson noted, “Notre Dame is not supposed to have fast backs.”

In 1976, Hunter also became the first Notre Dame player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (1988-90)

Fast-forward 15 years, and another “fastest ever” freshman enrolled — and he too, like Hunter, provided a game-breaking element to the attack as a freshman on a national title unit.

Like Hunter in a one-point win versus No. 1 Alabama, Ismail was a vital cog in the one-point win over No. 1 Miami (31-30), helping set up several scores. Ismail also snared a 29-yard touchdown in the national title victory over West Virginia.

He turned pro after his junior year after winning the Walter Camp Award (nation’s top player) and finishing as the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

Randy Kinder (1993-96)

The USA Today first-team All-American back won Michigan individual state championships in the 200- and 400-meter dashes as a junior, and finished second in the 100. A pulled hamstring as a senior prevented him from pulling off the “triple play” that year.

Like Hunter and Ismail, Kinder made an immediate impact wearing No. 25 as a freshman, rushing for 537 yards and 6.0 yards per carry on an 11-1 team that finished No. 2 despite defeating No. 1 Florida State.

Kinder, who would finish with 2,295 rushing yards with the Fighting Irish ran track in only his freshman year — and set the school record in the 200-meter dash with a 21.1 time to earn All-America honors at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

Tony Driver (1997-2000)

Like Kinder and Ismail, the USA Today first-team All-American running back was also a state champion sprinter, the 100 meters in Kentucky Class 3-A at the famous Male High in Louisville.

Driver began his career at running back before shifting to free safety, highlighted by two crucial interceptions of Drew Brees’ passes late in a 31-30 victory versus Purdue his sophomore season in 1998.

Munir Prince (2006-07)

The Missouri product was so fast, including a reported 10.4 clocking in the 100 meters, that it left even Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis in awe despite having coached in the NFL for nearly two decades.

“I’m not used to seeing that type of speed at running back,” Weis marveled on the opening week of 2006 camp regarding Prince, who was naturally issued No. 25. “When I’m talking speed, I’m talking about, ‘Whooooosh.’ I can’t describe that sound but you know what I’m talking about.”

Alas, it didn’t work out for Prince at Notre Dame, as his 15 carries his freshman season netted only 21 yards. He was shifted to defense, where Weis said Prince possessed “corner feet.” But after his sophomore year (a 3-9 finish) he transferred to in-state Missouri, where he remained on defense and overcame what almost was a paralyzing injury.

Jonas Gray (2008-11)

The U.S. Army All-American running back placed fourth as a high school junior in the 200-meter dash and third in the 100 at the state championship meet in Michigan.

It wasn’t until his senior year at Notre Dame he blossomed as a running back, highlighted by a 79-yard touchdown scamper in a hard-fought 15-12 victory at Pitt.

Braden Lenzy (2018-19, and No. 0 at present)

Two-time Oregon Class 6A state champion in the 400 meters also ran the sixth-fastest 200 meters in state history with a 21.34.

Although a lack of size prevented him from playing as a freshman, the wideout last year had 51- and 61-yard touchdown runs versus USC and Boston College while finishing as the third leading ground gainer for the season, and averaged 23.1 yards on his 11 catches.



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