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 begin to explore more of the 3rd level and into the Top 50 players.
Consensus or Unanimous All-American
Major CFB Award
60. Elmer Layden, RB, Davenport, Iowa (1922-24)
Layden wasn’t as productive of a runner as a pair of his Four Horsemen teammates but he did chip in as a passer and receiving threat while being arguably the best defender of the group. He also led as the top kick returner for the program during this run to the school’s first National Championship in 1924. Layden was a consensus All-American as a senior and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
59. Gus Dorais, QB, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin (1910-1913)
Dorais was the first Notre Dame player to make first-team All-American in program history. He’s credited with popularizing the forward pass to end Knute Rockne and was the school’s only 4-year starter for the first 90+ years of the program. He went undefeated as starter 3 separate seasons and was also the top field goal kicker, still holding the school record with 7 attempts against Texas in 1913. Dorais remains 3rd all-time in scoring per game for a career and was a consensus All-American in 1913.
58. Justin Tuck, DE, Rockford, Alabama (2001-04)
Tuck’s impact was limited early in his career as he redshirt and played very little in 2002. However, his last 2 seasons with the Irish were the stuff of legends. Tuck is tied for 3rd place in both tackles for loss in a season and career, as well as sacks (4) in a single game which he achieved twice. During 2003, he notched 13.5 sacks which remains the school record and he still has a 2-sack lead for No. 1 in Notre Dame history for a career. Tuck skipped his final season of eligibility and was never named a consensus All-American.
57. Zack Martin, OT, Indianapolis, Indiana (2009-13)
There aren’t many better players in recent times with the type of sustained excellence that Martin displayed at Notre Dame. After a redshirt, he would go on to start a school-record 52 games for the Irish. One of the rare two-time captains, Martin never earned his deserved All-American status although he did become the first offensive lineman in 54 years to be named the MVP of a bowl game.
56. George Kunz, OT, Arcadia, California (1966-68)
Kunz won a National Championship while being a tight end and tackle on the 1966 team. He switched permanently to right tackle for his final 2 seasons and won consensus All-American honors following 1968. He was also captain of the 1968 team.
55. Jaylon Smith, LB, Fort Wayne, Indiana (2013-15)
The Godbacker clocks in as the 5th best linebacker in Notre Dame history according to our rankings. Smith was a captain as a junior and a 3-year starter while in South Bend. His 67 tackles as a freshman are the third most in school history and he eclipsed 100 tackles in both his sophomore and junior seasons. An All-American for both 2014 and 2015, Smith was a Butkus Award finalist in both years while winning the award as the country’s top linebacker in 2015 to go along with consensus All-American honors.
54. John Huarte, QB, Anaheim, California (1962-64)
Notre Dame’s most fantastic one-year wonder. Huarte was buried on the depth chart through the 1963 season on team’s that lost 12 games over 2 years but he won the job in Parseghian’s first season at the helm. Huarte then exploded for 1964’s 4th most passing yards, 7th best completion percentage, 4th most passing touchdowns, while leading the country in yards per attempt.
Huarte’s passer rating for the season was the 2nd best ever at the time for a Notre Dame quarterback and while he came minutes away from a National Championship he did finish with the Heisman Trophy and consensus All-American status. Huarte is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
53. Mike McCoy, DT, Erie, Pennsylvania (1967-69)
McCoy was a dominant interior lineman who didn’t necessarily stuff the stat sheet. He’s 11th all-time in tackles by a defensive lineman, including a hefty 88 tackles during the 1969 season. As a senior, McCoy totaled 10 tackles for loss, finished as a unanimous All-American while placing an incredible 6th in the 1969 Heisman voting.
52. Joe Theismann, QB, South River, New Jersey (1968-70)
Theismann was incredibly prolific over his career. When he left Notre Dame he was tied for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, 2nd in QB rating, produced the 3rd best winning percentage from a starter while being the school leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. His 526 passing yards in 1970 against USC remains the most in Irish history, as well as the most total yards in a game by a player in school history. Following his senior season, Theismann finished 2nd in the Heisman voting while incredibly not winning consensus All-American honors. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
51. Red Salmon, RB, Syracuse, New York (1900-03)
Largely considered Notre Dame’s first great player, Salmon held numerous school records for several decades. He was the single-season and career scoring leader for the school, plus overall career touchdown king for 79 years. His 11.7 points per game in 1903 remains 2nd best in school history and this was when touchdowns were only worth 5 points. Salmon was an All-American as a senior and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
50. Nick Eddy, RB, Tracy, California (1964-66)
Eddy totaled 352 yards from receptions out of the backfield in his first year in 1964 which at the time was the most ever from a running back. Over his final 2 seasons he led the Irish in rushing while averaging 7.1 yards per carry as a senior. That 1966 season in which he won a title, Eddy also took back 2 kickoffs for touchdowns on only 4 attempts all year. He finished 3rd in the Heisman voting and was awarded unanimous All-American honors for 1966.
49. Tony Rice, QB, Woodruff, South Carolina (1986-89)
Going by the record books Tony Rice is Notre Dame’s greatest running quarterback of all-time. He has the 1st and 3rd most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback while his 1,921 career rushing yards is still by far the most in Irish history. His 23 rushing touchdowns is also a school record for a quarterback. As a passer, Rice has the 2nd best ever yards per completion mark and the best since 1960. Most impressively, his 28-3 record as starter is 2nd best in school history. Rice never gained consensus All-American status but finished 4th in the 1989 Heisman race while winning the National Championship the year prior.
48. Ziggy Czarobski, OT, Chicago, Illinois (1942-43, 46-47)
Czarobski was the lovable personality off the field whose career at Notre Dame was interrupted by service during World War II. He spent his last 3 years starting at tackle while blocking for a pair of Heisman winners and taking home a trio of National Championships. Czarobski just missed out on consensus All-American honors as a senior but was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
47. Jim Martin, E, Cleveland, Ohio (1946-49)
A member of Notre Dame’s fabled 1946 freshmen class, Martin was a 22-year old when he enrolled on campus after service in World War II. He would start for 4 years straight and captained the 1949 team. Martin was named to several All-American teams as a senior but did not receive consensus honors. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
46. Michael Stonebreaker, LB, River Ridge, Louisiana (1986-90)
Stonebreaker is the only pure linebacker in Notre Dame history to be named a consensus All-American over 2 seasons in a career. He was strong in all areas of the game while totaling 199 tackles for 1988 and 1990. Stonebreaker overcame an academic suspension in 1987 and another suspension in 1989 following a DUI to be named an unanimous All-American following his 5th-year with the Irish.
45. Mike Townsend, CB, Hamilton, Ohio (1971-73)
A two-year starter who blossomed at corner and was moved to free safety as a senior. Townsend intercepted a nationally-leading 10 interceptions in 1972 which remains the Notre Dame school record. He left the Irish in a tie for the 3rd most interceptions over a career. A captain of the 1973 National Championship team he was a consensus All-American as a senior.
44. Don Miller, RB, Defiance, Ohio (1922-24)
Our highest ranked member of the Four Horsemen backfield, Miller led Notre Dame in rushing for 1923 and 1924 while leading the team in receiving during all 3 of his seasons. Like his famous teammates, he also was a strong defender and played sparingly in the return game. For his career, Miller gained 2,846 all-purpose yards and scored 22 touchdowns. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.