Dec. 17, 2003
Notre Dame, Ind. – Six Notre Dame senior football players are committed to play in postseason all-star games in December and January. Defensive lineman Darrell Campbell, cornerback Vontez Duff, nose guard Cedric Hilliard, running back Julius Jones, offensive lineman Jim Molinaro and linebacker Courtney Watson all received and accepted invitations to play in various games.
Molinaro, of Bethlehem, Pa., will be the first Notre Dame player to see action when he plays in the 65th Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic on Dec. 25 in Movie Gallery Stadium on the campus of Troy State University in Troy, Ala. Molinaro concluded his career at Notre Dame playing in 31 games and starting 14 of them. The senior played the second-most minutes of anyone on the Irish roster in 2003 and won the Guardian of the Year Award given to Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman. He also was voted one of four captains for the 2003 season by his teammates. Molinaro will graduate in Maywith a triple major in economics, sociology and computer applications from the Mendoza College of Business and the College of Arts and Letters.
Watson and Duff will suit up for the East team in the 76th East-West Shrine Game scheduled for Jan. 10 at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco. Watson, from Sarasota, Fla., led the Irish in tackles with 107 in 2003 and recorded 10 or more tackles in eight of 10 games this season. He was named a semifinalist for the 2003 Butkus Award given to the nation’s outstanding linebacker after being one of three finalists for the same award in 2002. A first-team All-American by espn.com in 2002, Watson finished his career with 284 tackles, including 156 solos and 38.5 for loss. Off the field, Watson was one of 11 people named to the 2003 American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team for his contributions to the local and Notre Dame communities. Watson created the Tackle the Arts program in which the Irish football team works with the St. Joseph County Public Library in teaching children about the arts through reading, writing, drawing and playing music. He also served as a representative on the Notre Dame Student Senate in 2002. Watson graduated from the Mendoza College of Business last May and is enrolled in graduate studies.
Duff, from Copperas Cove, Texas, was a third-team Associated Press All-American in 2002, and led the Irish secondary in 2003. He finished the 2003 season with 33 tackles, two interceptions, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. A captain, he also was one of Notre Dame’s leading special teams players, finishing his career with the all-time record for number of kicks returned (120), while ranking third on the all-time Notre Dame total kick return yardage list with 1,955 yards and fourth in all-time kickoff return yards at 1,230. Duff is a sociology major in the College of Arts and Letters and will graduate in May.
Jones, from Big Stone Gap, Va., will be Notre Dame’s lone representative in the 2003 Senior Bowl on Jan. 24, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Jones finished his career ranked fourth on the Notre Dame all-time rushing list with 3,018 yards and tied Autry Denson for fourth on the single-season rushing list with 1,268 yards this year. He was one of only two players nationally to rush for 200 or more yards in three or more games this season and set the Notre Dame single-game rushing record with 262 yards against Pittsburgh. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 2003 and scored 10 touchdowns, finishing his career with 29. He also became Notre Dame’s all-time kick returner, finishing his career with 1,660 yards. The senior will graduate from Notre Dame in May with a degree in sociology.
Campbell and Hilliard will play in The Villages Gridiron Classic Jan. 31 in The Villages Polo Stadium in The Villages, Fla. Campbell, of South Holland, Ill., was a leader on defense this season as he finished 2003 with 25 tackles, 6.5 for loss and three sacks. He also is an example to his teammates off the field as he will graduate in May with degrees in English and computer applications and is extremely active in the community. Campbell won the 2003 Nick Pietrosante Award given to the Notre Dame player who best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Irish All-America fullback Nick Pietrosante, as voted by his teammates. He also was named a 2003 captain joining Molinaro, Duff and Omar Jenkins.
Hilliard recorded 27 tackles this season, including 1.5 for loss. The senior also had two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup. The native of Arlington, Texas, was named the 2003 National Football Foundation’s Moose Krause Chapter Lineman of the Year. Hilliard will graduate in December with a degree in sociology from the College of Arts and Letters.
Notre Dame could also have players in the 2004 Hula Bowl set for Jan. 17, in Maui, Hawaii. Rosters for the game are still being finalized and will be announced at a later date.