Thursday, November 1, 2007

1st Annual OC Domer Player of the Year Awards

The ballots are in. The results have been tabulated. It's time to announce the first ever recipient of the "OC Domer Player of the Year Award." Before I do so however, I want to answer the question that is surely on your mind as you read this: How can OC Domer name a "Player of the Year" when there are still four games left to play? That's a fair question.

While there are four games remaining to be played on the 2007 football schedule, this season is OVER. We just finished playing eight straight games against top-caliber competition and went 1-7, mathematically eliminating ourselves from Bowl eligibility after playing just 2/3 of our schedule. There are four games left to play, but those games are not about this season. They are about next season. The next four games, in my view, are pre-season games for 2008. These next four games are against a much softer class of competition and will serve as an excellent opportunity for Coach Weis and his staff to develop the young players who will be the heart and soul of the 2008 squad. It's a rare chance to put young players in live-fire situations and see who has the talent and the heart to play football at Notre Dame. The next four games will allow Charlie Weis & his staff the chance to do what they failed to do in 2005 and 2006: Give meaningful reps to the players who will carry the program in the future.

I have decided not to wait until late November to decide Player of the Year honors because for purposes of evaluating the 2007 season I don't care who plays well over the next month. If Clausen or Sharpley have huge games against Navy or Stanford, it won't negate the fact that our quarterback play was horrible WHEN IT COUNTED. If the offensive line overpowers the Air Force and Duke defensive fronts, it won't negate the fact that the Irish barely managed 1 yard per rush WHEN IT COUNTED. If the Notre Dame defense bottles up the Air Force and Navy rushing attacks, it won't negate the fact that we were the 93rd best team in the country against the run WHEN IT COUNTED.

Don't get me wrong. I'll be watching the games with my usual intensity. I'll be sitting on the edge of my seat, and I'll jump into the air screaming and scaring my kids and my dog when the Irish score a touchdown. But what I'll be looking for are the players who give me reason to hope that next year will be better.

The OC Domer Player of the Year Award is intended to recognize the Notre Dame football player or players who played the best when it mattered the most. I want to recognize the guys who showed up and gave quality efforts against the best teams we faced, not the rest of the teams we faced. The award is based on a horrendously complex and intricate scoring system that would take too long to explain and that you wouldn't understand anyway. Suffice it to say that the primary criterion was a consistently high level of play, with significant bonus points awarded for exceeding expectations.

The OC Domer Player of the Year for the 2007 football season goes to: David Bruton.

David is a junior free safety from Miamisburg, Ohio. On the season David has 35 solo tackles, which is second only to linebacker Joe Brockington (36), and 53 total tackles (third behind Brockington and Trevor Laws). From the free safety position he has 3 tackles for loss and one sack. He is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and also has forced one fumble. But the numbers tell only part of the story. Bruton has also made what are probably the three most athletic plays seen from the Irish this season. Against Michigan State, in the waning moments of the first half, David broke from his "deep center field" position on a long MSU pass and made an amazing interception at the sideline to end a Spartan threat. His reaction to the ball, the speed he showed, and the amount of ground he had to cover to haul in that pass were truly impressive. Afterwards Defensive Coordinator Corwin Brown said that he expects to use film of that interception to teach proper safety play for years to come. Against Boston College, on their first possession of the game, L.V. Whitworth raced around left end and appeared headed for an easy sixty yard touchdown. I was watching the game with my Dad, and I said to him: "He's not going to score. Bruton is going to catch him." And he did. Despite having no angle and being way behind at the start, Bruton ran Whitworth down and tackled him at the seven yard line. It was another impressive display of raw athletic ability and heart. The third play came against USC when Bruton not only blocked a Trojan punt, but picked the ball cleanly right off the punter's foot.

Those displays of athleticism, within his overall outstanding performance on the year make David Bruton the OC Domer Player of the Year. Over the 2005 and 2006 seasons (and even before) the Notre Dame secondary has been the weakest link on the team, and the deep pass completions to opposing receivers splitting the seams in the secondary have been a recurring nightmare. While Irish strong safety Tom Zbikowski has been at the line of scrimmage blitzing and trying to shore up the run defense much of the time, David Bruton is a big part of the reason that Irish fans haven't been traumatized by the deep balls down the middle this season. He's also a big part of the reason the Irish overall pass defense is ranked 13th in the nation, by far the best statistical ranking for the Irish in any category this year. David has also been outstanding on special teams. In addition to the blocked punt, he has been a sure tackler on punts and kick-offs. What put David over the top for this award was the fact that he has greatly exceeded expectations. Other contenders for the award who have had very good seasons were by and large established starters who were expected to be very good this year. Although David had some playing time in 2005 and 2006, and garnered defensive MVP honors at the Blue & Gold game this year, nobody was sure how good he would be. Would he be as good as Ndukwe? Or would we see a drop-off? Well, Bruton has shown far more range and athleticism than Ndukwe and the overall play at the safety position has been improved, despite Zbikowski's puzzling inability to return to the level of play we saw from him in 2005.

Congratulations, David. And thanks for giving it your all every week.

OC Domer Player of the Year Runners-up were: Trevor Laws and Pat Kuntz. Both of these players have given it everything they have all season long, and have played at a very high level. They end up runners-up because they were generally expected to be very good this year, so they did not garner as many bonus points for exceeding expectations. They were also hurt by the fact that, despite their tremendous effort, Notre Dame's runs defense has not been very good overall.

OC Domer Player of Year Honorable Mentions go to: Robby Parris and Duval Kamara.

Who are your Notre Dame Players of the Year? I'd love to hear from you.


Andy said...

Assistant Coach of the Year:


Anonymous said...

I agree completely! But please add Kerry Neal and Brian Smith as honorable mentions. I can't wait to see these guys wreck some offensive coordinator's day in the coming years! I am a So Cal resident myself and your posts bring a smile to my face. I have been a fan for as long as I can remember and always will be. I was at the UCLA game and saw what is possible and want to continue being a part of that experience. This has been a hard year to watch the team but I truly believe it is going to change. I believe that we will see this Phoenix rise from the flames and close alot of hater's mouths (at least for a few seconds). Yes, we have had coaching mistakes and we have a young team with little experience but we are getting experience and the coaches are well aware of their mistakes. With the talent that is being seasoned and the incoming talent you can't tell me something good is not going to happen.

GO IRISH! We are behind you all the way whatever happens!

OC Domer said...

Andy: I thought about a Coach of the Year mention. If I did include it I would have chosen Corwin Brown. He has revitalized recruiting on the defensive side of the ball, and his defense is already better than the past two years, despite no help from the offense.

Anonymous: I thought about K. Neal and B. Smith, but both players are still pretty one dimensional and have alternated flashes of brilliance with obvious freshman mistakes. Bright spots, certainly, but not quite OCDPOTY material yet.

sir john said...

Nicely thought out. I'm surprised Zibby regressed this year.

IrishGlory said...

My votes would be:

Player of the Year: Trevor Laws

Runners Up: David Bruton and Pat Kuntz (I personally did not expect Kuntz to be as good as he has been. I knew he was a max effort guy, but he has been disruptive and solid at NG, even though that is not his best position).

Honorable Mention: Brian Smith, Joe Brockington (who doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves this year), and Will Yeatman (by far our most consistent and most hard nosed blocker)

SubwayDomer26 said...

OC DOMER. I read your comment on SD for "From The Mind Of Scrot" post. I did not write this particular post, as I have allowed another sub alum to contibute a post or two a week. I have mentioned to him today what I thought about the post (I agree with you), but I will not take it down as I am opposed to censorship in any form.

WeisGipper said...

I also agree with your Player of the Year. Bruton has been a beast and will only get better. I would have given some consideration to Darrin Walls too. His stock his risen.