Notre Dame football: A special trip for Gray
Instead it was a rare opportunity for his mother to see him play in person.
"It's hard for her to get to games in South Bend," the Notre Dame senior cornerback from Columbia, S.C., said earlier in the week. "That makes this game all the more special."
It was special for Irish defensive line/special teams coach Mike Elston as well, but for different reasons. The Carolinas are part of his recruiting territory, and lately it has started to become a talent pipeline of sorts for ND.
Saturday night was an opportunity to bring the Notre Dame brand to that region's top prospects, up close and personal.
"It has started to grow in terms of its significance in the recruiting grand scheme of things," Irish head coach Brian Kelly said of the Carolinas. "Even when I was at Cincinnati, we started to get in there, because the high school football was growing and that population growth in that area.
"It's been on our radar. We've just really worked hard at it, and we've obviously got some players from that area that have allowed us to continue to build those relationships."
Have they ever. From 2001 to 2006, there was not a single scholarship player from North Carolina or South Carolina on the roster. Lance Legree, a nose guard from St. Stephen, S.C., was the last South Carolina player to don an ND uniform -- his final season was 2000 -- until former Irish coach Charlie Weis signed Gray in 2007.
Cornerback Robert Blanton signed the following year, ending a drought in North Carolina that went all the way back to the final year of the Lou Holtz Era of ND football (1996), when linebacker Kinnon Tatum (Fayetteville) was a senior.
"North Carolina is an outstanding state for talent," CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "Very underrated. You've got all the ACC and SEC schools coming into the area, not to mention some of the Big Ten schools. It's a very competitive area."
Still, in the 2010 class that Weis started and Kelly finished, the Irish were able to sign two players from the Carolinas -- linebackers Prince Shembo and Kendall Moore. Last winter, they added three more quarterback Everett Golson, wide receiver Matthias Farley and outside linebacker Ben Councell.
Already there are three in the current recruiting class of 15 and building offensive lineman Mark Harrell of Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic High, wide receiver Chris Brown of Hanrahan (S.C.) and outside linebacker/defensive end Romeo Okwara from Shembo's alma mater, Ardrey Kell in Charlotte.
Running back Keith Marshall of Milbrook High in Raleigh, N.C., is one of ND's top remaining recruiting targets in this class.
"North Carolina is in a spot where you don't have any (colleges with) true winning traditions; Carolina, N.C. State," said Mike Newsome, Blanton's head coach at Butler High in Matthews, N.C., who has since moved on to Kannapolis High.
"If our players get an opportunity at a place like Notre Dame, with their winning tradition, they'll jump at it. I know they don't have the wins they want to have now, but that time is coming."
Stand-up in the future?
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was the king of the one-liners at a morning breakfast/forum Saturday morning in Winston-Salem with Wake counterpart Ron Wellman.
When Swarbrick was asked who was going to win tonight's big game, he responded, LSU.
And when the ND AD was pressed about whether Notre Dame might be interested in joining a conference that started with an A -- as in ACC Swarbrick retorted, "I didn't know the P in Pac-12 was silent."