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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Connections with players, coaches lead McCloud to Irish

Losing a four-year contributor and vocal leader is never easy for any program. Few are so fortunate to have a near-copy arrive on their doorstep months later, but that’s exactly what Notre Dame got when graduate student Nick McCloud announced his decision to transfer to South Bend from NC State. The similarities between McCloud and current Carolina Panther Troy Pride Jr. are uncanny. Both from South Carolina, the two cornerbacks hover around 6-foot, 190 pounds. Even their undergraduate playing careers have been similar — both marked by highs and lows, but with resilient finishes.

For McCloud, he found a rhythm with the Wolfpack during his sophomore season, starting in eight games, during which NC State posted a 7-1 record. That momentum carried into his junior season, where he served as a permanent starter, highlighted by a career-high 10 tackles against Clemson. However, McCloud hit a roadblock this past season, only appearing in two games for the Wolfpack. That roadblock led him to South Bend.

Within a week of entering the transfer portal, McCloud said he reached out to current defensive backs coach Terry Joseph, who explained the current state of the position. Joseph ultimately proved integral to McCloud’s decision to choose the Irish.

“I couldn’t really, I didn’t really visit anywhere at all, due to the pandemic, but just that choice with Coach Joseph explaining the situation to me,” McCloud said. “Also, just my relationship with Troy [Pride] and Houston [Griffith III], it definitely helped a lot making the decision a little easier for me.”

While not having the accessibility to visit schools throughout the transfer process was certainly an obstacle, McCloud said he relied heavily on Pride and Griffith III’s perspective as students in making his decision.

“Being recruited through a pandemic was kind of rough, so just reaching out to those guys and just giving me the comfort that I needed from a player standpoint was big and [helped] make my decision to come to Notre Dame,” McCloud said.

Courtesy of Hayden Adams
Irish graduate student cornerback Nick McCloud chases down his opponent in the end zone during Notre Dame's 27-13 season opening win over Duke at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 12.

While Joseph may have been the first to bring McCloud into the fold, cornerback coach Mike Mickens has clearly been a key influence in McCloud’s time at Notre Dame. 

“His tips and his coaching style is very, very modern, to help us, to help me and my teammates just on how the game is being played now. And then also just his fire and competitiveness every day,” McCloud said. “He reminds me a lot of myself so like, if I'm not ready to go, I know one thing’s for sure, is Coach Mickens is gonna be ready to go. So just that edge that he brings every day is definitely beneficial to me in the group.”

Mickens, a former NFL cornerback, is 33 and in his first season with the Irish. McCloud said that his age and proximity to the players is an asset to building a strong sense of community among the position.

“We feel like we can go in and approach him about pretty much anything that’s going on,” McCloud said. “He’s very relatable to us, and just like you said, it’s always like that relationship to where we can go to him about anything but at the same time, he is definitely going to make sure that we’re locked in when it’s time to be locked in.”

McCloud continued, sharing how Mickens’ leadership translates to the field.

“With Coach Mickens, we come in every day, of course, we want to have great technique, we want to do our job, but at the end of the day, the most important thing in football is the ball,” McCloud said. “So just having it, that want to finish on the ball every play, like that’s something that we definitely emphasized throughout camp and that we’re still doing on a daily basis.”

While McCloud has certainly faced his fair share of adversity, he believes it has been formative to making him the player and teammate he is today.

“I feel like last year I set a lot of individual goals and, you know, the season was just taken away from me,” he said. “So this year, I just tried to focus on what I could do better on a daily basis rather than individual goals or awards or anything like that. So I just really [have] been focused on what can I do better the next day, or what can I do better today.”

That experience and perspective seem to be paying off. Against Duke, McCloud recorded five tackles — four of which were solo. Against USF, he might even prove to be more valuable.

While new to Notre Dame, McCloud might be arguably the most experienced member of the Notre Dame defense to take on USF this Saturday. Bulls head coach Jeff Scott has spent the past 11 seasons at Clemson, serving as co-offensive coordinator for the past four, all of which he’s faced McCloud and the Wolfpack.

“I know they got a great coach, a winning culture with Coach Scott coming from Clemson,” McCloud said. “And then, of course, they recruit in Florida, so they’re going to have a lot of speed on the field. So just that you can’t overlook any opponents you play, so we definitely got to come prepared to play this week.”

Expect McCloud to come prepared to play this Saturday with a wealth of experience and the chance to rewrite the script in South Bend.