I created a primer to this project which explains the way we’ll be ranking all 185 players. It will be a pyramid structure and as we ascend the players will get better and better. Follow along this off-season as we preach about all the wonderful talent that has played for Notre Dame.
Today, we finish the 2nd level of the pyramid.
Consensus or Unanimous All-American
Major CFB Award
91. Nick Pietrosante, FB, New Haven, Connecticut (1956-58)
The namesake for the annual award given since 1988 to a Notre Dame player who best exhibits courage, loyalty, teamwork, and pride. A backup runner in 1956, Pietrosante led the team in rushing as a junior while being one of the team’s better defenders and a solid punter, too. As a senior, he again led Notre Dame in rushing and came close to consensus All-American honors while finishing 10th in the Heisman voting.
90. Harrison Smith, S, Knoxville, Tennessee (2007-11)
Smith struggled somewhat as a linebacker and made the switch to safety where he developed into one of the best players in the country at the position. In 2010, he had the 5th most tackles ever in a season by a Notre Dame defensive back and intercepted 7 passes, too. As a fifth-year senior, Smith tied for the 9th most pass break-ups in a season. When his career was finished he was 10th all-time at Notre Dame in tackles and is currently 3rd in career pass break-ups.
89. Greg Marx, DT, Novi, Michigan (1970-72)
One of the most dominant interior linemen in school history. Marx started at defensive tackle for 3 seasons and finished with 24 tackles for loss in his career. His 96 tackles as a senior are the 10th most ever by a defensive lineman and after graduating he left South Bend tied for the 4th most tackles from a lineman in Irish history. Following 1972, Marx was awarded unanimous All-American honors, one of 6 Notre Dame defensive linemen to achieve that feat.
88. Pat Filley, OG, South Bend, Indiana (1941-44)
Weighing only 178 pounds Filley was one of the best blockers of the Leahy era and one of a select group of two-time captains at Notre Dame during the 20th century. He won a National Championship in 1943 in the same year he won consensus All-American honors.
87. Jeff Burris, S, Rock Hill, South Carolina (1990-93)
Tri-captain of the 1993 team that also voted him team MVP. One of the strongest all-around players of the modern era who was a consensus All-American as a senior and scored 10 touchdowns as a goal-line running back. Burris also totaled 419 yards as a punt and kickoff returner while intercepting 10 passes over his career. He left South Bend with the 10th most tackles by a defensive back.
86. Jerry Tillery, DT, Shreveport, Louisiana (2015-18)
Injuries slowed Tillery as a freshman as he missed half the season but he’d eventually develop into one of Notre Dame’s best players by his senior year. His 8 sacks in 2018 is tied for the 6th most in a season for an Irish player and his 13.5 career sacks is among the best totals for an interior lineman. Tillery graduated with 24 tackles for loss and just missed out on consensus All-American honors after his senior season.
85. Dave Duerson, S, Muncie, Indiana (1979-82)
Perhaps the best defender in the years between Notre Dame’s 1977 and 1988 National Championships. Duerson was twice an All-American as an upperclassman but missed consensus honors in both years. His 88-yard interception return against Miami in 1981 is the second longest in school history. Like Harrison Smith above, Duerson picked off 7 passes in a season and is the Irish all-time leader in interception return yardage. Duerson was also a great punt returner, leading Notre Dame all-time in returns and 2nd in yardage.
84. Larry DiNardo, OG, Howard Beach, New York (1968-70)
DiNardo was captain of the 1970 team that set the school-record for total offense in a single season. He played more than anyone on the team over his final 2 seasons. DiNardo earned consensus All-American honors for 1970 and was also an Academic All-American, as well.
83. Wayne Millner, E, Salem, Massachusetts (1933-35)
An iron man who was famous for never missing a down due to injury over his college and pro career. Millner came up with several big moments for the Irish both on offense, defense, and special teams. He missed unanimous All-American honors after 1935 due to one service leaving his name off their list. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame, inducted in 1990.
82. Kevin Hardy, DT, Oakland, California (1964-67)
Hardy played basketball, baseball, and football at Notre Dame and was legitimately among the best players on the team for the latter two sports. A three-year starter at tackle, he won a National Championship in 1966 as a leader of maybe the school’s best defense. Hardy earned All-American honors in his last 3 seasons but never enough to get consensus praise in any single year.
81. Tom MacDonald, CB, Downey, California (1961-63)
MacDonald played during some rough years for the Irish as a team but put up some of the most impressive personal statistics for a defensive back. As a junior, he broke Angelo Bertelli’s record for interceptions in a season with 9 and is currently 2nd all-time in this stat. MacDonald would leave South Bend with the most interceptions in school history, since passed by only one player.
80. Tony Hunter, TE, Cincinnati, Ohio (1979-82)
Hunter played receiver for 2 years then switched to tight end so some of his stats are skewed. Nevertheless, he was very productive, especially for his era, from his first season until his last. His 42 receptions in 1982 were then the 2nd most in a season by a tight end and using only his final 2 years he’s 6th all-time in tight end catches. For his career, Hunter caught 120 passes for 1,897 yards.
79. Julian Love, CB, La Grange Park, Illinois (2016-18)
This places Love as the 5th best corner in school history per our rankings, no small feat. Despite only 1 interception as a junior, Love’s 2017 saw him total the second most interception return yardage in a season in school history. His ability to break-up passes is well known. After 2018, he has the 1st and 2nd most PBU’s in a season in Irish history and is comfortably now the Notre Dame career leader in that category. Love controversially just missed out on unanimous All-American honors after 2018 which would’ve made him only the 3rd pure corner to do that in Irish history.
78. Monty Stickles, E, Poughkeepsie, New York (1957-59)
Pound for pound right up there with Paul Hornung as the best overall athlete in the post-Leahy and pre-Ara years. Stickles caught 42 passes over his career with an impressive 12 touchdowns, made 110 tackles, while leading Notre Dame in scoring all 3 of his seasons thanks to his kicking ability. He was a two-time All-American and won unanimous honors in 1959 while finishing 8th in Heisman voting.