July 31, 2003
Notre Dame, Ind. – Notre Dame senior linebacker Courtney Watson has been named a preseason first-team All-American by Street & Smith’s and The Sporting News. Watson, the team’s leading tackler in 2002 with 90 stops, was also ranked fourth by Lindy’s on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker, and 10th on the list for the Bednarik/Nagurski Award, bestowed each year upon the nation’s most outstanding defensive player. Street & Smith’s also placed Watson on its lists for the same awards. The 6-1, 234-pounder from Sarasota, Fla., has been ranked the fourth-best middle linebacker in all of college football by both The Sporting News and Lindy’s.
Senior cornerback Vontez Duff joins Watson on Street & Smith’s preseason All-America first-team, as well as picking up a second-team selection from Athlon. The 5-11, 194-pound Duff, whose six passes broken up ranked him second on the team last season, has been named to Street & Smith’s preseason watch list for the Thorpe Award, handed out to each season’s top defensive back. Lindy’s has rated the versatile senior from Copperas Cove, Texas, as the nation’s seventh-best cornerback and the ninth-best all-purpose player, while The Sporting News hails Duff as the game’s 10th best at both cornerback and kick returner.
Senior nose guard Cedric Hilliard was named by Athlon to its preseason All-America third-team. The 6-2, 295-pound Hilliard from Arlington, Texas, who tallied 31 tackles and two sacks in 2002, has been ranked as the sixth-best defensive tackle in the nation by The Sporting News.
Senior free safety Glenn Earl has earned a spot on the Street & Smith’s preseason honorable mention All-America team. The same magazine has also tabbed the hard-hitting Earl as a candidate on its preseason list for the Thorpe Award, joining fellow Irish senior Duff in the running for the honor. The Sporting News ranks the 6-1, 204-pounder as the 14th best free safety in the nation, as well as earning a ranking of 19th in Lindy’s.
Junior running back Ryan Grant is the lone Irish underclassmen to earn to All-America honors, having been selected to Street & Smith’s preseason honorable mention team. The native of Nyack, N.Y., has been recognized as the nation’s 18th-best running back by Lindy’s after a 2002 campaign in which he rushed for 1,085 yards and nine touchdowns. He became only the seventh player in Notre Dame history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Senior kicker/punter Nicholas Setta has also garnered honorable mention All-American status from Street & Smith’s. Setta, who needs only 15 field goals in the 2003 season to break John Carney’s Notre Dame career record, is also included in the same magazine’s preseason list for the Groza Award, presented annually to college football’s most outstanding kicker.
Senior linebacker Mike Goolsby from Joliet, Ill., who recorded 75 stops and an interception last season, has been recognized as the 12th-best inside linebacker in the nation by Lindy’s. Senior defensive tackle Darrell Campbell of South Holland, Ill., has been ranked as college football’s 19th-best defensive lineman by the same publication. The 6-4, 296-pounder was second on the team with six sacks in 2002.
Notre Dame’s 2003 recruiting class has also received favorable reviews from preseason college football publications. Lindy’s has credited the Irish with the nation’s fifth-best recruiting class. On that publication’s list of top 100 incoming freshman, eight will be playing for the Irish this fall: Brady Quinn, Greg Olsen, Ryan Harris, John Sullivan, Victor Abiamiri, Trevor Laws, Ambrose Wooden and Tom Zbikowski. Athlon has ranked the 2003 incoming class as the seventh best in the game. Six players listed in its top 100 are Irish freshman, with Freddie Parrish, Jr., joining Olsen, Sullivan, Harris, Abiamiri, and Zbikowski.
Notre Dame’s linebacking corps was honored by Athlon as being college football’s fourth-best unit. The Sporting News gave the group the nod as the game’s ninth best. Athlon also chose the Notre Dame defensive line as the fifth best in the country. The team itself received top-25 recognition by five preseason college football magazines. The Sporting News ranked the Irish at 20th, Street & Smith’s and Athlon both placed the Irish in the 22nd slot, Lindy’s has the team at 15th, and Preview Sports at 17th.