Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Cam McDaniel is a sophomore.
NOTRE DAME — Cam McDaniel has embraced his role on the Notre Dame football team.
What exactly that role is, however, changes from week to week.
Depending on the upcoming opponent, McDaniel will jump from running back to kickoff returner to cornerback.
He is Notre Dame’s walking insurance policy.
“I’m kinda just ready for whatever they call me to do,” the sophomore said. “You got to expect to go in. You got to expect to make plays every game.”
While the 5-foot-10, 195-pound tailback/cornerback has spent most of the season on special teams, he’s given Irish fans a taste of the program’s future in performances against Navy, Miami and Oklahoma.
Against Navy and Miami, after Notre Dame had gone up by several scores and yanked all its starters, McDaniel powered down the field when his number was called. In his two games running the ball, McDaniel has 20 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown.
His adaptability was most recently seen against Oklahoma when usual kickoff returner George Atkinson III was out with the flu. McDaniel filled in, ran hard and finished the day with four returns for 77 yards.
“What goes through my mind is that I want to get the ball to the opposite end zone,” he said of returning kickoffs. “I’ve prepared my whole life for moments like that.”
McDaniel, the son of a Texas pastor and high school football coach, exudes a mix of casual confidence and humility. He repeatedly says he is “humbled” and “honored” to play for Notre Dame, but he also doesn’t downplay his own abilities. He has a vision for his future in the program, which includes a national championship.
He addresses reporters by “sir” and “ma’am.” He doesn’t shy away from addressing the tougher stuff, like his friend and former teammate who drowned three weeks ago or his initial disappointment upon hearing he’d be playing cornerback in the spring instead of running back.
“It was definitely shocking, I’m not going to lie,” McDaniel said when head coach Brian Kelly told him he’d be moving positions. “When Coach Kelly first asked me to do it, I thought he was talking about safety. I said, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure you got the right person?’”
McDaniel hadn’t played cornerback since pee wees, but Kelly told the McDaniel he was “athletic enough to make the transition.”
McDaniel has since come back to tailback but will rotate positions depending on that week’s need.
Three weeks ago, when McDaniel received the news that his former high school teammate, Jacob Logan, had drowned while at a lake with McDaniel’s younger brother, Gavin, the Irish tailback decided to honor his friend on the field.
When McDaniel heard he’d be filling in for Atkinson against Oklahoma, he traded his No. 33 uniform for No. 21, Logan’s number at Coppell (Texas) High School.
Several of McDaniel’s friends, family and former teammates drove three hours from Coppell to Norman, Okla., to watch McDaniel’s performance against the Sooners that earned him a game ball.
“It was an extreme blessing, an extreme honor,” McDaniel said of wearing No. 21. “Just a tribute to my friend and former teammate.”
McDaniel said Logan’s death was eye-opening. “It just reminds us that life is but a vapor,” he said.
With Pitt coming to town on Saturday, McDaniel said he’s spent most of the week on offense, taking reps with the running backs.
He might get in the game as a tailback. He might return a few kickoffs. He might play a bit of corner if the Irish pull away from the Panthers. He might even give Louis Nix a breather at nose guard.
Doubtless, McDaniel will welcome the challenge.
“I’m always ready to go,” he said