May 27, 2003
Notre Dame, Ind. – Four Notre Dame football players have been named amongst the best at their respective positions by The Sporting News for the upcoming 2003 season. Senior defensive lineman Cedric Hilliard was named the sixth-best defensive tackle in the nation, while senior Courtney Watson ranked fourth amongst middle linebackers. Senior Vontez Duff appeared at No. 10 on both the cornerback and kick returner lists, while senior Glenn Earl landed at No. 14 among all free safeties.
Hilliard, who was named a 2003 preseason third-team All-American by Athlon’s, finished last season with 31 tackles, including five for loss. He made a number of big plays for the Irish in ’02 as he blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt against Michigan and knocked down the Wolverines’ final pass attempt in a 25-23 Notre Dame victory. He later recorded a career-high seven tackles against Air Force and was named the Notre Dame Player of the Game at the 2003 Gator Bowl.
A 2002 first-team All-American and one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, Watson continues to add to his resume. Already named a 2003 first-team preseason All-American by Athlon’s, Watson led the Irish in tackles with 90, including 51 solos, in only 10 games last season. He recorded four games of 10 or more tackles including a season-high15 against Michigan State and had 10 tackles for loss on the year. He also pulled down four interceptions, including one for a touchdown in Notre Dame’s 31-7 win over Stanford.
A native of Copperas Cove, Texas, and possibly the most exciting player in college football, Duff can do it all on the football field. A third-team All-American by Associated Press in 2002 and a second-team preseason All-American this year by Athlon’s, Duff finished the year seventh in the nation in kickoff return average at 27.7 yards. He also had 36 tackles, including 31 solos, in 2002, and became the first person in Notre Dame history to return a punt, kickoff and interception for a touchdown in the same season. He is on pace in becoming the all-time kick return specialist in Notre Dame history in 2003, possibly breaking the record former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown set 15 years ago.
Known as the one of the hardest hitters in college football, Earl was second on the Irish with 81 tackles in ’02, including 51 solos. He was named Chevorlet Player of the Game against Florida State with a season-high 11 tackles, including one sack and one interception. He also batted down three balls against the Seminoles.
Notre Dame starts the 2003 season with a showdown against Pac-10 champions and Rose Bowl participant Washington State on Sept. 6 at Notre Dame Stadium. Game time is 1:30 p.m. (EST).