NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame's 2012 season may have caught the majority of the college football world off guard, but last year's Fighting Irish also came with an obvious choice as one of its four captains - Manti Te'o. The linebacker helped galvanize the team into a cohesive unit that ran through the regular season and into the BCS Championship Game.
Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert and Kapron Lewis-Moore joined Te'o in the quartet of captains last year, and Martin, along with Bennett Jackson and T.J. Jones, is part of a trio of 2013 Irish captains. Martin did his own galvanizing over the summer when he made veteran linemen wait for upwards of an hour to workout with freshman so they could all be together.
"That just does not happen," head coach Brian Kelly said while recalling Martin's actions. "But because of him, he's been able to up the play of all of our younger players exponentially. He's made others around him better."
Martin becomes just the 18th two-time captain and Notre Dame and the first for the program since Maurice Crum, Jr. in 2007 and 2008.
"It's a huge honor," Martin said when asked about being a repeat captain. "To be a part of this team and to be thought of as a leader and the other two guys, Bennett and T.J., are great representatives too."
"The best thing about this team is that we have so many guys that could be captains," Martin said. "(Such as) Tommy (Rees), T.J., myself, (Chris) Watt and then on defense (Dan) Fox, Carlo (Calabrese), Prince (Shembo) - all those guys. It's a huge honor to be named one of those three guys, but this team (has) a lot of leaders."
Te'o was a vocal leader, but Martin does not think he will need to change his own style to compensate for the loss of Te'o's boisterousness.
"He brought a lot of energy and was a big, vocal guy," Martin said of Te'o. "But I've always kind of been an example leader. My vocal side has definitely stepped up the last couple years, but I've always thought of myself as a leader by example, so I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing."
Jackson is a captain after just one year as a full-time starter. He began his career on offense and was thrust into a starting role at cornerback last year after playing primarily as a reserve and on special teams in 2011.
"I think it's a great honor," said Jackson. "I was extremely excited when coach said I was one of the defensive captains - or the defensive captain. At the end of the day I look at it as it's really nothing changing. I'm still the same guy to my teammates. I just want to be there for them and let them know that I'm a reliable person if they need something."
The Hazlet, NJ native says he "got excited" when he first hear he would be a captain in his final season on the team.
"I thanked my coaches (and) I thanked my teammates. I just let them know that at the end of the day I'm going to have the C on my jersey, but I'm going to be the same old Bennett. I'm going to be there for every one of my teammates and just continue to push this organization the way we want to go."
While being a captain means a lot to him, Jackson says he thinks the team has a lot of other great defensive leaders.
"I don't want to take away from anyone else on the defense," he said. "I just want to be that valuable source that's there that they can depend on and know (I am) going to show up and play for them every week."
Jones has worked his way through the ranks as well to find himself in a leadership position as a senior.
"It means a lot," said Jones. "I have a lot of family ties to Notre Dame. Being able to represent my teammates, my family (and) the university as a whole on this level is an honor and I can't thank my coaches enough."
Jones' father, the late Andre Jones, is the senior receiver's family connection to the school. Andre, who passed away in 2011, played defensive end for the Irish from 1987-1991.
"He would have been ecstatic," Jones said of his dad with a smile. "He would have probably been jumping around (and) yelling on the phone. He might have came up here a little early for the Temple game just to hang out, but he definitely would have been proud."
"It's something you work towards," he continued. "Being a senior and working my way up through the program you never know how close you are to it or how far you are, so when he (coach Kelly) finally says your name it's kind of like ok, I did it. There's more responsibility now, but at the same time it's a good feeling."