Notre Dame Football: The 10 Most Important People in the Program

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IDecember 19, 2011

Notre Dame Football: The 10 Most Important People in the Program

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    FBS-level football programs require the guidance of more than just one individual, making the efforts of each person associated with the program vital for success.

    Like any organization, team, group, etc., certain members possess more power than others. Which members of Notre Dame's football program are the most important?

    Follow along to find out.

10. Cierre Wood

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    With senior running back Jonas Gray set to graduate in the spring, Cierre Wood will become the lone experienced back in a relatively thin stable.

    Wood has had a breakout season, accumulating 1,042 yards on 199 carries. The shifty back has also racked up nine touchdowns.

    That experience will be highly valued next season, as current freshmen George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel will be Wood's backups.

    With three of five starting offensive linemen likely to return in 2012, another 1,000-yard season isn't out of the question for Cierre Wood. His steady production will take pressure off a passing game that is likely to take a step back without Michael Floyd.

9. Braxston Cave

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    Braxston Cave, who is likely to receive a fifth year of eligibility, was the anchor of an Irish offensive line that was among the nation's best this season.

    Unfortunately for Cave, he suffered a foot sprain against Wake Forest on November 5 that effectively ended his season.

    In the games following the victory over the Demon Deacons, Cave's absence was quite noticeable, as he had been calling out protections and line shifts all season. Without that leadership, the line struggled, and was dominated by Stanford's defensive line in Palo Alto back on November 26.

8. Jack Swarbrick

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    The inclusion of athletic director Jack Swarbrick in this list is only fitting, as he oversees the football program.

    He's also Brian Kelly's boss, if you will.

    Swarbrick is in full control of the more abstract aspects of the program, such as scheduling, finances, etc.

    Aside from his hire of Brian Kelly, Swarbrick's most noticeable affect on the program is the 7-4-1 scheduling format. Those neutral-site games, which started in San Antonio in 2009, have largely been Swarbrick's brainchild.

7. Paul Longo

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    Do you ever wonder where the Fighting Irish get that extra gear in the fourth quarter? The answer is the efforts of strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo.

    Because the NCAA mandates that the coaching staff not have any contact with the players for a majority of the summer, Longo's time with those players is of tremendous importance.

    During those weeks, Longo pushes the players through some of the most grueling workouts in existence. They're well worth it in November, though.

6. Aaron Lynch

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    After only one season at Notre Dame, it's clear how much of an impact freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch has had on the program.

    The Irish pass rush was average at best in 2010, but that changed this season. Lynch's fearsome speed coming off the edge gave Notre Dame's pass rush a much needed boost.

    Lynch's defining moment of 2011 was sacking Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, resulting in a forced fumble. The play was Lynch's "welcome to college football" moment.

5. Bob Diaco

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    Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco came to Notre Dame as a little known coach who had served in the same capacity at Cincinnati under Brian Kelly.

    Diaco's well known now. His ability to secure the commitments of defensive players such as Ishaq Williams, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt caught the attention of the masses.

    However, it's what he has been able to do with that talent that has gained Diaco recognition. His defense made a few major strides in 2011. The Irish front seven transformed into an effective one, shutting down opposing rushing attacks time and again.

    Don't be surprised if his name begins to be thrown around as a potential head coach candidate at another school.

4. Michael Floyd

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    At the conclusion of the Champs Sports Bowl on December 29, Michael Floyd will have exhausted his eligibility at Notre Dame. Too bad he can't stay forever.

    Floyd has earned his place in Notre Dame history as one of the best receivers to ever attend the school.

    Floyd's 2011 season speaks to his impact on the program. He was a safety valve for young quarterback Tommy Rees, and was, no doubt, a significant reason of why the Irish offense was able to move the ball at such a consistent rate.

    It'll be interesting to see how Brian Kelly replaces a dynamic play-maker like Floyd next season.

3. Manti Te'o

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    To say Manti Te'o is a coach on the field is an understatement. It's that leadership and knowledge mixed with talent that has NFL scouts salivating.

    Unfortunately for those scouts, Te'o will be returning to Notre Dame for his senior season.

    Simply having Te'o on the field elevates the Irish defense to a new level. His leadership and maturity will be incredibly valuable for a defense that will be very young next season.

2. Brian Kelly

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    Brian Kelly is the face of Notre Dame football. It's as simple as that. The team goes as he goes.

    Kelly is, naturally, the singular most important person within the program. While fans have not been pleased with Kelly through two seasons, he has the team steered and headed in the right direction. It's only a matter of time before he reaps the fruits of his labor.

    The popular topic of debate is how long Kelly should have to truly turn the corner. The man should be given at least five seasons to prove his worth.

    Give Kelly time to recruit four crops of his own players. The product on the field will speak for itself.

1. The Fans

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    No college football program would be what it is today without the fans. They're the lifeblood of the sport. Whether it be "the wave" or traditional chants, the fans single-handedly support the program.

    Notre Dame has the nation's best fans, without a doubt. There's simply no argument there.

    Irish fans have stuck with the program through 15-plus years of mediocrity in the hopes that their beloved program will return to national prominence.

    Here's to you, Notre Dame fans. You deserve this.