Blue-Gold Game draft brings competition out of Notre Dame coaches and players

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Deland McCullough arrived at Guglielmino Athletics Complex at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday to prepare for Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game repechage.

That’s how seriously McCullough, Notre Dame’s running backs coach and head coach of the Gold team in Saturday’s spring game (1 p.m. EDT on Peacock), took things Wednesday. McCullough even wore his Super Bowl LIV championship ring from his practice days for the Kansas City Chiefs as motivation.

“I told them we were bringing a championship aura to the set and material to the table,” McCullough said. “One of the guys said, ‘That Super Bowl ring isn’t going to save you in this game. I said, ‘I understand that.’ It’s fun to get out there and get caught up in the moment.

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After the coach of the Blues Al Washingtonthe team’s defensive line coach, made some comments about the draft from the stage, McCullough gave something closer to a WWE promotion.

“There were no bad choices here,” McCullough said. “We had a plan, we executed it completely. I feel good with my staff. I feel incredible towards my team. And I’m sorry for the blue team.

Team Gold even tried to pull off a quick one when selecting specialists near the end of the draft. long snapper Michael Vinson has already been assigned to the Gold team as part of the pre-draft process. But McCullough’s team is still selected Alex Peitschthe only other long snapper on the roster, with the No. 2 pick of the draft pick specialists.

“We thought we were going to dangle a carrot and try to get these guys to give up something big,” McCullough said, suggesting his team might be able to get an extra running back. “But we were rejected.”

Instead, Gold was forced to trade Peitsch in exchange for a kicker. Josh Bryan. Blue team picked Bryan in draft after Gold picked Peitsch when he already had a kicker Blake Group on his team. Special Teams Coordinator Brian Masonwho is a member of the Blues coaching staff, had no clowning around.

“(Mason) wasn’t happy,” Washington joked. “I was right behind him. I wasn’t happy either. I support my coach. We actually traded to balance him out. We solved it.

Washington’s blue staff includes Mason, offensive coordinator Tommy Reeoffensive line coach Harry Histand and safety coach Brian Mason. McCullough’s Gold staff includes a defensive coordinator Al Goldencornerbacks coach Mike Mickenwide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey and tight ends coach Gerard Parker. Both teams also have their share of graduate assistants and analysts for Saturday.

Washington wasn’t in the building as early as McCullough on Wednesday, but that’s because he didn’t need to make late adjustments.

“That’s his problem,” Washington said. “I’ve been working on it for about a week. Some people are piling up. I foresee.”

Former Notre Dame running back and current student Jerome Bettis acted as commissioner of Wednesday’s draft by announcing each pick and taking photos with the players and their shirts after they were selected. Before the draft began, each team was assigned seniors to participate in the selection committees. Full rosters and draft results are available here.

Because Tyler Bucher injured his ankle outside practice Tuesday, the second-year quarterback will not play Saturday. it means junior Drew Pyne will play quarterback for both teams. Offensive linemen will also be able to play for both teams, in part due to a lack of healthy depth.

“It was a great environment,” Freeman said of the draft. “Jérôme Bettis has done an incredible job as curator. It was kinda fun.

“It’s going to be competitive on Saturday, but I want to have fun. I want our guys to really enjoy that experience of being drafted, owning the teams they’re on and finding a way to win. It’s the competitive spirit that we have.

SEARCH FOR VALUE

Security Houston Griffith left Wednesday’s repechage confident in the way his Blues team came together.

“I feel like we’ve got the guys who are going to get the job done and are going to compete at a high level on Saturday and are going to play with a lot of juice and energy,” Griffith said. “It’s something we need when we go to this pitch on Saturday. We have a group of guys who are ready to play as a unit.

One of the biggest surprises in the draft came when Gold selected freshman Jadarian Prize as second running back behind second year Logan Digg. This meant Price was ahead of the junior Chris Tyree and second Audric Esteem.

“He’s kind of been asleep,” the cornerback said Cam Hartrepresenting Team Gold. “But just watching practice – and you’ll see that on Saturday – this guy is elusive. He has traits that I haven’t seen here at Notre Dame.

Tyree was limited by an ankle injury this spring and was given the questionable designation for Saturday’s scrimmage. McCullough was happy to take him as the fourth running back in the roster.

“It’s a real value pick there,” McCullough said. “We kind of put on a bit of sandbag and pulled the trigger on Chris. Excited about this. I’m not going to stress him too much, but I’m definitely going to put him in positions to help our team. Then JD (Price) will have the opportunity to do great things for us and step into a bigger role.

Griffith named second-year tight end Mitchell Evans as his choice of dark horse. Blue took it ahead of junior Kevin Bauman.

“He’s going to be the sleeper pick and he’s going to make a few plays on Saturday,” Griffith said. “I’ve been covering Mitch Evans since he came here and he’s gotten better every year. This spring you can see it in the way he finishes games.

Hart, who will remain seated as he continues to recover from offseason labrum surgery on his shoulder, pointed to the second Prince Kolliethe fourth linebacker selected, as his dark horse choice for gold.

“PK had a wonderful spring,” Hart said. “I think he works well with Bo Bauer and Jack Kisser.”

Notre Dame running back Chris Tyree, up front, has been slowed by a left ankle injury this spring. (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)

BONUS POINTS

• Freeman could easily have named Rees and Golden as head coaches of the Blue and Gold teams given their coordinator titles. But by appointing Washington and McCullough as the team’s head coach, he placed a pair of black coaches in another position to lead.

The Blue-Gold Game head coach might not appear on either resume in the future, but the message he sends to the team is important.

“It’s important: representation,” Washington said. “For a team to see that is also powerful. Everyone is capable of leading. I can definitely see the value in that and take great pride in it.

• The depth of Notre Dame’s defensive line was evident in Wednesday’s draft, with the position group dropping 11 spots with stock players. This made recruiting defensive linemen a bit easier for both teams. Washington was happy with the versatility he ended up selecting for Blue with Rylie Mills, Jacob Lacey, Alexander Ehrensberger, Joshua Burnham and Jason Onye.

He enjoyed that defensive tackle Howard Cross III was selected as the first defensive lineman by Gold.

“It was cool to see Howard Cross go first,” Washington said. “He just had a hell of a spring. It’s great to see him being recognized.

• Former Rob Hunt provided official injury designations ahead of Saturday’s scrimmage.

Out: Buchner (ankle), Hart (shoulder), wide receivers Avery Davis (knee), Joe Wilkins Jr. (foot) and Henry Cookoffensive linemen Jarrett Patterson (chest), Pat Coogan (knee), Billy Schrauth (foot) and Joey Tanon (concussion), tight end Cane Berrong (knee), defensive linemen Jayson Ademila (shoulder) and Aidan Keanaina (knee), linebackers JD Bertrand (wrist) and Colin Gutzmerand security Eddie Scheidler (leg).

Questionable: Tyree, cornerback Jayden Bellamydefensive lineman Tyson Ford and back / tight end Davis Sherwood.

Likely: Kiser, Griffith, Price, wide receivers Laurent Styles and Jayden Thomas and offensive lineman Tosh Baker.

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Martin E. Berry