By Nick Richardson @NickSonofDave on May 30, 2014
As one of the highest-profile college football programs in the country, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish must face the loss of several top-tier players every year. Thankfully, being Notre Dame, there is usually a four or five-star recruit waiting in the wings to take that player’s place. These are five players in particular who have big shoes to fill in the upcoming 2014 season.
While George Atkinson was only the Irish’s second-leading rusher last season with 583 yards, he led the team with 1386 all-purpose yards. Folston was dynamic at times as a freshman, averaging over 5 yards per carry and scoring 3 touchdowns. Folston will likely share time with fellow sophomore Greg Bryant, but early indications suggest he will come out of camp as the number one RB.
Troy Niklas was Notre Dame’s third-leading receiver in 2013, catching 32 passes for 498 yards and 5 touchdowns. With Niklas soon to be catching passes for the Arizona Cardinals, Koyack will step in and try to continue Notre Dame’s recent tradition of top-flight tight ends. Koyack is not the blocker that Niklas was, but he should put up comparable receiving numbers.
This is a bit of an interesting pick, as Smith was already was one of the Fighting Irish’s key pieces on defense last season as a freshman. However, Prince Shembo is now in the NFL after recording 48 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a team-high 17 quarterback hurries. Shembo was also a steadying force on the defense, and his leadership will be missed. As a sophomore, Smith will be asked to do much more for Notre Dame in 2014.
Similar to Smith, Day saw a lot of playing time as an underclassmen, notching 33 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. With Brian VanGorder switching Notre Dame to a 4-3 defense, Day will move from end to tackle. This means he is partly responsible for filling the sizable hole left by Louis Nix, one of the stars of Notre Dame’s 2012 run to the national title game. Nix missed time last season, but his presence alone made Notre Dame’s defense better.
Zack Martin leaves Notre Dame as one of the most decorated and respected players in recent team history. A two-time captain, Martin holds the Notre Dame record with 52 career games played. No matter who was at quarterback, Martin made sure they stayed upright. Stanley will have his hands full trying to replace Martin, but the team is confident that the junior can step in from day one and succeed.
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