Nov. 29, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Former University of Notre Dame football standouts Rocky Bleier and Chris Zorich and current Irish tight end John Carlson will be honored Tuesday night at the 50th annual National Football Foundation Awards Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
Bleier will receive the prestigious Distinguished American Award, Zorich will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame – and Carlson will be honored as one of the NFF National Scholar-Athletes.
The only other time Notre Dame has had recipients of each of those three awards in the same year came 30 years ago in 1977 – with former Notre Dame executive vice president Rev. Edmund. P. Joyce, C.S.C. (Distinguished American), former All-America lineman Ziggy Czarobski (College Football Hall of Fame) and Dave Vinson (Scholar-Athlete) honored.
All three Notre Dame graduates also will be honored Monday night at a dinner at the New York Athletic Club hosted by the Notre Dame athletics department. Notre Dame athletics director Kevin White and other members of his staff will be in attendance at both events.
All three players were Notre Dame football team captains – Bleier in 1967, Zorich in 1990, and Carlson in 2007.
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The Distinguished American Award is presented by the NFF on special occasions when a truly deserving individual emerges, with the award honoring someone who has applied the character-building attributes learned from amateur football in their business and personal life, exhibiting superior leadership qualities in education, amateur athletics, business and in the community.
Bleier joins a list of previous winners that includes Vince Lombardi, Bob Hope, Pete Rozelle and the late Pat Tillman. Other previous winners with Notre Dame connections include former Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. (1975), former Notre Dame executive vice president Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C. (1977), former Notre Dame athletics director Edward “Moose” Krause (1989), University trustee and Elkhart, Ind., businessman Art Decio (2000) and former Irish football All-American Alan Page (2005).
A football and basketball star in Appleton, Wis., Bleier attended Notre Dame as a standout running back for the Irish under Hall of Fame coach Ara Parseghian. He received his degree in business management in 1968.
Bleier then played one season in the NFL before being drafted by the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam. While serving in 1969, Bleier’s platoon was ambushed and his left thigh was wounded. Additionally, a grenade sent pieces of shrapnel into his right leg while he was down. His courageous service earned him the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Bleier returned to the pros in 1970, but he played only sparingly for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the next three seasons. He not only needed to gain a great deal of weight back, but his war injuries made it difficult for him to walk. Through perseverance and a strict training regimen, Bleier worked his way into a starting spot in 1974. He would retire from the NFL as a four-time Super Bowl champion.
Bleier wrote a book called Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story, which depicted his struggle to recuperate following Vietnam. He also established Rocky Bleier, Inc. in 1980, serving as a motivational speaker worldwide. His speech, “Be the Best You Can Be,” encourages audiences to keep on striving for greater accomplishments. He resides in Pittsburgh, Pa.
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Zorich, a two-time All-America defensive tackle at Notre Dame, is one of 12 former college players and two coaches named to the NFF’s 2007 College Football Hall of Fame Class for the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). Zorich and the other players and coaches will be enshrined at the Hall of Fame in South Bend in July 2008.
Zorich becomes the 42nd former Notre Dame player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The Irish also have five former coaches in the Hall — and the 47 total enshrinees are the most of any NCAA institution.
A three-year starter at defensive tackle for the Irish, Zorich left Notre Dame as one of the most decorated defensive players in school history. He was a two-time All-American, earning unanimous first-team All-America accolades as a senior in 1990. Zorich was named United Press International Lineman of Year for 1989 and was chosen CBS Sports/Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year for 1990. He was selected as the 1990 Lombardi Award recipient, given annually to the outstanding lineman in college football, and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy that year, too. Zorich started at nose tackle on the 1988 national championship team and finished his Notre Dame career with 219 tackles, including 21 tackles for loss.
Zorich was drafted in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft by Chicago and played for the Bears through the 1996 season. His stay in Chicago was highlighted in 1993 when he was named an alternate to the NFC Pro Bowl team. Zorich played for the Washington Redskins in 1997 before retiring from the NFL to pursue a law degree at Notre Dame.
Zorich graduated from Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American studies in 1991 and from the Notre Dame Law School in 2002.
A native and current resident of Chicago, Zorich is president of the Christopher Zorich Foundation and is a past recipient of USA Weekend’s “Most Caring Athlete Award” and the Jesse Owens Foundation Humanitarian Award. The Foundation assists disadvantaged families through a variety of diverse activities and have affected over 100,000 individuals.
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As a National Scholar-Athlete, Carlson receives an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and is one of 15 finalists for the Draddy Trophy, the award presented to the nation’s top scholar-athlete and often referred to as “The Academic Heisman.” Should he win the Draddy Trophy, the scholarship would grow to $25,000.
Carlson is the 15th Notre Dame football player to receive the scholarship but the first since Tim Ruddy in 1993. Only Nebraska (20) and Ohio State (19) have had more players selected since the program began in 1959. Previous Notre Dame winners include Jim Lynch (1966), George Kunz (1968), Mike Oriard (1969), Larry DiNardo (1970), Tom Gatewood (1971), Greg Marx (1972), Dave Casper (1973), Pete Demmerle (1974), Vinson in ’77, Joe Restic (1978), Bob Burger (1980), Mike Favorite (1983), Greg Dingens (1985) and Ruddy in ’93.
Since arriving on campus at the start of the 2003-04 school year, Carlson has typified what a student-athlete should be. He graduated in four years with a degree in history and amassed a cumulative GPA of 3.633 during his undergraduate years. Carlson was a member of the Academic Honors program at Notre Dame and was named to the Dean’s List in Fall 2004, Spring 2006 and Spring 2007.
He has been involved with the Tackle the Arts program, which is designed to educate and motivate children from low socioeconomic areas of South Bend for four years. Carlson also speaks at Ryan’s Place for families who have lost loved ones and is a four-year participant in the Hematology and Oncology Christmas Party for children with cancer.
Carlson’s athletic success has been equally as impressive. He was named a 2006 first-team football Academic All-American, a 2007 second-team football Academic All-American — and he was also tabbed a second-team All-American in `06 by SI.com. Carlson was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award in `06, presented to the nation’s top tight end, after recording the second-most receptions and receiving yards by a tight end in school history.
He finished his Notre Dame career second all-time in receptions (100) and third in receiving yards (1,093) by an Irish tight end, to go with eight receiving touchdowns. This past year in 2007, Carlson led the Irish with 40 receptions to go with 372 receiving yards and three TDs. From Litchfield, Minn., he is enrolled in the graduate studies program at Notre Dame.
Here’s the complete listing of the 2007 College Football Hall of Fame Class:
PLAYER (SCHOOL), POSITION, YEARS
Tom Brahaney (Oklahoma), Center, 1970-72
Dave Brown (Michigan), Defensive Back, 1972-74
Jeff Davis (Clemson), Linebacker, 1978-81
Doug Flutie (Boston College), Quarterback, 1981-84
Johnnie Johnson (Texas), Safety, 1976-79
Rex Kern (Ohio State), Quarterback, 1968-70
Ahmad Rashad (Oregon), Running Back/Wide Receiver, 1969-71
Anthony Thompson (Indiana), Running Back, 1986-89
Wilson Whitley (Houston), Defensive Tackle, 1973-76
Reggie Williams (Dartmouth), Linebacker, 1973-75
Richard Wood (Southern California), Linebacker, 1972-74
Chris Zorich (Notre Dame), Defensive Tackle, 1987-90
COACHES – SCHOOL (YEARS)
Herb Deromedi (Central Michigan, 1978-93)
Joe Paterno (Penn State, 1966-Present)
Here’s the complete listing of the 2007 National Scholar-Athlete Class:
FOOTBALL BOWL SUBDIVISION
Alex Brink, Washington State University, QB, Sport Management, Coos Bay, Ore.
John Carlson, University of Notre Dame, TE, History, Litchfield, Minn.
Dennis Dixon, University of Oregon, QB, Sociology, San Leandro, Calif.
Dallas Griffin, University of Texas, C, Business Honors/Finance, Katy, Texas
Mike Klinkenborg, University of Iowa, LB, Elementary Education, Rock Rapids, Iowa
J Leman, University of Illinois, LB, Speech Communication, Champaign, Ill.
Brandon Renkart, Rutgers University, LB, Civil Engineering, South Bound Brook, N.J.
Paul Smith, University of Tulsa, QB, Communications, Owasso, Okla.
Jacob Tamme, University of Kentucky, TE, Integrated Strategic Communication, Danville, Ky.
FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SUBDIVISION
Nick Clark, Texas State University, DE, Mathematics, Fort Worth, Texas
Brandon Cramer, University of Dayton, S, Pre-Medicine, Waterville, Ohio
Michael Eubanks, Delta State Univ. (Miss.), LB, Pre-Medicine, Cleveland, Miss.
Danny Woodhead, Chadron State Univ. (Neb.), TB, Mathematics/Health & Physical Education, North Platte, Neb.
Eric Safra, Mount Union College (Ohio), C, Business Administration, Sagamore Hills, Ohio
Jake Weller, Illinois College, DB, Biology/Chemistry, Jacksonville, Ill.
— ND —