Dec. 17, 2002
The University of Notre Dame football team, in the midst of preparations to face North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl (Jan. 1, 2003, 12:30 p.m., NBC Sports), has seen a number of its players named to All-America teams over the past few days.
ESPN.com selected just one team this season, and Irish C Jeff Faine and ILB Courtney Watson both appeared on the squad. A Rimington Award finalist and Lombardi Award semifinalist, Faine has started 34 consecutive games at center for the Irish as the anchor of the offensive line. Watson, a finalist for the Butkus Award, has made 90 tackles this season, including 10 for a loss to go along with three sacks and four interceptions. Faine and Watson are both seniors academically at Notre Dame, but both are eligible to apply for a fifth-year and return for the 2003 season.
The Associated Press also has released its All-America teams and four Irish players received some mention on one of the three squads. Consensus All-American CB Shane Walton landed on the first team, while Faine was on the second and Watson on the third with junior CB Vontez Duff. Walton has been one of the most honored defensive players in the nation this season, earning All-America accolades by the FWAA, AFCA, Walter Camp, AP and CNN.SI. Notre Dame’s team MVP, Walton has seven interceptions this season (including two returned for a touchdown), 65 tackles, five tackles for a loss and 14 passes broken up and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award.
Duff stepped up as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation this season, as well as one of the country’s most dangerous return specialists. Duff became the first Irish player to return a punt, interception and kickoff for a touchdown in the same season in 2002. He also made 36 tackles on defense, broke up seven passes and recovered two fumbles.
The third All-American team announced recently came from CNNSI.com. Walton received first-team accolades, while Faine and Watson appeared on the honorable mention list.