Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin spoke recently of the difficulty in managing three talented running backs throughout this past season. He was glad to have the abundance of talent at the position, but he also felt bad because he didn’t think Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and George Atkinson III received the amount of work that he would have liked – not that he had a solution for that problem.
“Truth be told, they all could be a feature back,” Martin said. “They all could do things.”
Martin may face the same dilemma next fall, but it won’t be with the same faces.
Riddick has exhausted his eligibility and on Monday, Wood announced that he was foregoing his final year of eligibility to turn professional.
“Having to make a decision like whether to stay in school or leave to pursue a lifelong dream of playing in the NFL is never simple,” Wood said in a release. “I had to weigh many factors over the last month, but ultimately it came down to what I felt was the right decision that would most benefit my family. With that in mind, I’m leaving Notre Dame and am entering my name for this year’s NFL Draft.”
Wood was Notre Dame’s second leading rusher (740 yards, 6.7 yards per carry) behind Riddick (880 yards) this season and leaves Notre Dame as the seventh-leading rusher in school history, having gained 2,447 yards on 450 career carries. No running back in Notre Dame history, with as many career rushes as Wood, has a better yards-per-rush average as his 5.4 yards-per-carry average.
“Cierre has been an important member of our football team in my three years at Notre Dame and I appreciate all he did to help get our program back on top,” Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said. “I wish him well in the future and hope he has a successful playing career at the next level.”
With Wood and Riddick out of the picture, that will leave Atkinson III as the top back entering spring football, and his utilization is something that both Kelly and Martin discussed throughout this past season.
“We’d like to get George 20 carries a game, but there’s one football,” Martin said recently. “Coach (Kelly) and I had a discussion at the beginning of the year, ‘We have to get George more touches.’ I’m like, ‘I’m with you, we’ve got to run more plays. Whose touches do we want to take away?’”
Atkinson finished the season with 361 yards, but his per carry average of 7.1 yards per carry was the best of any running back.
“He’s a really explosive athlete,” Martin said.
Atkinson III will compete with junior-to-be Amir Carlisle, who did not play due to injury this past season.
Carlisle transferred to Notre Dame after averaging over six yards per carry for USC as a freshman. He’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Also returning will be junior-to-be Cam McDaniel, who saw time at both running back and cornerback. McDaniel ran for 125 yards this past season and played in all 12 games.
Another possibility for reps at running back next fall could be incoming freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
Both players have verbally committed to play for the Irish and are four-star recruits from the state of Florida.
Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood leaves the Fighting Irish program having made his mark on the field, as well as the record book. Here are some statistics that the senior compiled while in South Bend.
* Career Rushing Yards – 7th, 2,447
* Career Receptions by a Running Back – tied 8th, 52
* Career Yards from Scrimmage – 9th, 2,831
* Career 100-Yard Rushing Games – 12th, 6
* Single-Season Yards from Scrimmage – 9th, 1,291 (2011)
* Single-Season TD Receptions by a Running Back – tied 9th, 2 (2010)
* Single-Season Receptions by a Running Back – 10th, 27 (2011)
* Single-Game Yards per Rush – 4th, 13.6 (2012 vs. Wake Forest)