Sept. 2, 2003
by Chris Masters
The history of Notre Dame football dates back more than a century. So, when someone is labeled the greatest in Irish gridiron history, it means something. In the case of Julius Jones and Vontez Duff, they have the opportunity to become the best kick return combination ever to play under the Golden Dome.
Jones led the Irish in kickoff return average three consecutive seasons from 1999-2001 and paced Notre Dame in punt return average in both 1999 and 2001. For his career, the speedy Jones ranks second in school history with 1,857 yards in total kick returns (punts/kickoffs), just 232 yards behind the school record set by 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown. He also is one of just two Irish players in the last 72 seasons to have returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
Duff ranked eighth in the nation last season by averaging 27.7 yards per kickoff return. He currently stands seventh in school history with 1,349 yards in career kick returns. What’s more, Duff broke Brown’s school record for total kick returns in a season with 59, two more than the longtime Oakland Raiders star had in 1987. In addition, Duff has returned three kicks for touchdowns, which is fourth best in school history and three away from the all-time mark shared by Brown, Allen Rossum and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail.
Senior Vontez Duff currently stands seventh in school history with 1,349 yards in career kick returns.
Duff also holds a unique place in Notre Dame football history, having returned a punt, kickoff and interception for a touchdown in three consecutive games. In addition, he nearly became the first player in NCAA history to have a punt, kickoff, interception and fumble return for a TD in his career, coming within two yards of the latter runback at Florida State last season.
“Both Julius and Vontez have the ability to get a crowd on its feet every time they touch the ball,” Irish special teams coach Buzz Preston said.
“They are playmakers, the kind of athletes who can break a long return for a touchdown without breaking a sweat. It’s not often you see players of their caliber so you just try to enjoy it while you can.”