Nov 27, 2013, 11:51 AM EDT
Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
It’s the last week of the regular season for the Irish, but today we only finish up the first quarter of the top 100 players in Notre Dame history. Here’s #76-80:
#80: John Yonakor – End – 1942-1943
Consensus All-American (1943), National Champion (1943)
A key piece of the 1943 national championship team, John Yonakor was robbed of a senior season when he joined the war effort with fellow teammates and Frank Leahy. It was only fitting that Yonakor would follow his coach, who recruited him to go to Boston College when Leahy coached the Eagles. When Leahy came to Notre Dame in 1941, Yonakor decided to enroll.
His career is even more incredible when you consider his background. After a leg injury as a child, Yonakor was told he might never walk again. He eventually gained enough strength to play football in high school and later as a consensus All-American at Notre Dame.
After coming back from the war, Yonakor was drafted by Philadelphia in the first round of the 1945 NFL draft and played six seasons in the league mostly as a defensive end.
#79: Nick Rassas – Safety – 1963-1965
Consensus All-American (1965)
1965: 53 tackles, 6 interceptions for 197 yards, TD; 24 punt returns for 459 yards, 3 TDs
One of the greatest walk-ons in Notre Dame history, Nick Rassas ended up starting at safety for Ara Parseghian in 1964 and ’65. He averaged 32.8 yards on his six interceptions in 1965 and 19.1 yards per punt return. His three punt return touchdowns in ’65 are tied with Allen Rossum and Tim Brown for the most in a season. Those 19.1 yards per return are still a single-season Notre Dame record (min. 1.5 returns per game).
But Rassas was also known as a fearsome safety in Ara’s stout defenses. Opponents averaged only 7.7 points per game in 1964 and 7.3 in ’65. Here are some highlights of Rassas’ career. Link here if video doesn’t work. Highlights start around the 1:30 mark.
#78: Pete Demmerle – Split End – 1972-1974
Consensus All-American (1974), National Champion (1973)
1973: 26 receptions for 404 yards, 5 TDs
1974: 43 receptions for 667 yards, 6 TDs
Pete Demmerle is a great example of why I looked at stats pretty minimally for this endeavor. Compare his numbers to Tyler Eifert’s – Demmerle ranks higher on my list despite having fewer receptions and receiving yards. But to put the eras in perspective, Notre Dame attempted 235 passes in 1974 and 473 in 2011. I don’t take anything away from Eifert, but he caught 14 percent of the team’s passes in his All-American season while Demmerle caught 18 percent.
With 69 receptions in his final two years, Demmerle easily led the Irish in receiving each of those seasons. His two-point conversion reception in the Sugar Bowl proved the difference in a 24-23 victory that sealed Parseghian’s second national title.
A national star on the gridiron, Demmerle also achieved the rare duo of Academic All-American status to go with his Consensus All-American selection. He went on to become a lawyer after graduating from Fordham Law School. Demmerle died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 2007 at the age of 53.
#77: Tommy Yarr – Center – 1929-1931
Consensus All-American (1931), National Champion (1930)
The sole captain of the 1931 team, Tommy Yarr had the unenviable task of leading the team in the first year after Rockne. He did, however, have the experience as the starting center on the 1930 championship team.
His heroics in the 1930 season opener against SMU ensured the win for the Irish, who went on to a 10-0 record en route to the title. Yarr’s three interceptions in the fourth quarter, including two in the closing minutes, capped off the 20-14 victory.
#76: Jerry Groom – Center / Linebacker – 1948-1950
Consensus All-American (1950), National Champion (1949)
In my research for this list, I find myself constantly amazed by some of the players I previously knew little about. One of the biggest things is the way many of these older guys played on both sides of the ball. Jerry Groom is a perfect example.
Groom played 465 minutes in 1950, which means he was on the field for 86% of the time during his senior season. Sure, it was a slower game back then, but that’s absurd.
Groom captained the ’50 team, which was unfortunately Leahy’s worst at 4-4-1. However, his impact on the 1949 championship team was undeniable, and most evident when he intercepted a late pass in the end zone to seal a 27-20 win over SMU. The game was Notre Dame’s last of the season and concluded the 10-0 season.
That solidifies a weird connection between Yarr and Groom. Both played center, both had game-preserving interceptions against SMU their junior national championship seasons and both were captains their senior year. You can’t make this stuff up.
I don’t know if you heard, but there’s a pretty big game this weekend, so this is probably it for ND Rank for the week. We’ll be back next week, though.
76. Jerry Groom
77. Tommy Yarr
78. Pete Demmerle
79. Nick Rassas
80. John Yonakor
82. Wayne Millner
83. John Smith
84. Dick Arrington
85. Art Boeringer
87. Jeff Burris
88. Mirko Jurkovic
89. Nick Pietrosante
90. Gerry DiNardo
92. Frank Rydzewski
93. Eddie Anderson
94. Jack Robinson
95. Chuck Sweeney
97. Reggie Brooks
98. Bob Kelly
99. Ziggy Czarobski
100. Frank Dancewicz
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