Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 27 of 63

28 JANUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TYLER HORKA AND PATRICK ENGEL W hat do Brian Kelly and Mar- cus Freeman have in com- mon? They both had huge hands in Notre Dame finish- ing with yet another double-digit-win season, and they both said in the tumul- tuous-turned-euphoric first week of December that the players were the No. 1 catalyst for the 11 wins the Irish racked up in the 2021 regular season — not any one coach or anyone else. This 2021 Blue and Gold Illustrated Awards article will focus on the players, then. If the former head coach of 12 years who won more games at Notre Dame than anyone else who came before him and the newly named head coach who has seemingly ignited an energy within the program that hasn't been matched since the Irish last won a national cham- pionship say so, then it shall be so. And oh, what a group of players it was. From true freshmen to fifth-year se- niors, Notre Dame received contribu- tions from all sorts of players up and down the roster. Who had three different quarterbacks playing meaningful snaps with games on the line in a span of two weeks? Who had four different players rotating like they were playing musical chairs in the first month of the season? The other side of the ball was a little more predictable, but who really envi- sioned All-American safety Kyle Ham- ilton missing the last five games of the year? And who saw a sophomore cor- nerback turned safety being the player to shine in the biggest moments in Hamilton's absence? Freeman didn't hold three straight opponents (Navy, Virginia and Georgia Tech) out of the end zone. His players did. Kelly didn't tie and break Knute 2021 BGI AWARDS Reviewing the top performers from a regular season of continued success and another double-digit win campaign Junior running back Kyren Williams rushed for 1,002 yards and 14 touchdowns, and also tied for second on the team with 42 catches for 359 yards and three scores. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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