While not every Fighting Irish football fan knows the name of all the players on the team, it’s more than likely they know Audric Estimé: Notre Dame’s top running back of 2023. This season, which was Estimé’s third with the Fighting Irish, featured a slew of career highs and significant contributions to the team’s successes throughout the year. Over the span of 12 games, Estimé rushed for 18 touchdowns, earning him the title of 2023 Notre Dame Offensive Player of the Year. Despite declaring for the 2024 NFL Draft and ending his college career before the team’s final competition in the Sun Bowl, the junior’s legacy will live on.
Hailing from St. Joseph Regional High School in New Jersey, Estimé played in 12 games for Notre Dame in 2021 as a true freshman. But, it was in his sophomore year that he really began to shine, and he has contributed more with each season, both as a player and a leader. In the past two years, Estimé has led the Irish in rushing yards, averaging 70.8 yards per game in 2022 and 111.8 yards per game in 2023.
In the 2023 season, Estimé pummeled defenses for a total of 1341 yards. He made an impact from the beginning of the season, scoring the Irish’s first touchdown of the year in the opener against Navy just halfway through the first quarter. This was only the beginning, however, and he went on to score in 10 of the 12 games of the season.
The running back set several career highs throughout the season, though one of the most notable records was at North Carolina State — the longest rush of his career. Following a two-hour rain delay where the team feasted on concession stand snacks, Estimé shifted the momentum to the Irish after the unprecedented wait.
Estimé enjoyed a hot dog and just minutes later, stunned the crowd with an 80-yard rush that resulted in a touchdown. He recognized the team’s preparation, noting that it “was just a result of everyone staying ready, the offensive line doing their job,” but conceded that “it was a very good, tasty hot dog.”
He continued this exceptional performance throughout the year, with highlights including two touchdowns and 81 rushing yards against Duke, as well as three touchdowns and 114 rushing yards against Pitt. The showdown against Duke was also a significant moment for Estimé as he was responsible for a last-minute touchdown that gave the Irish a victory following quarterback Sam Hartman’s conversion on fourth-and-16. Estimé rushed 30 yards to give the Irish a 21-14 lead to win the game.
Estimé credited the victory to Hartman: “When the pressure is on, [Sam] is at his best. Him converting on that fourth down was huge for us, honestly, without that play we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to score right there.”
Not every week brought victory, however, and some opponents were tougher than others. Estimé took these challenges in stride. Against Louisville, where the Irish faced their second loss of the season, Estimé put up just 26 yards. Yet the following week against USC, he responded with 95 yards and two touchdowns.
“Last week was a learning experience. What anti-fragile means is you get stronger from adversity; we did that,” Estimé explained after the USC victory. “We're not really chasing wins. We're chasing our full potential, and that's what we did.”
By the end of the year, Estimé had been named the 2023 Notre Dame Offensive Player of the Game for Stanford, USC, Tennessee State and Central Michigan. His humility and recognition of the team’s effort are as consistent as his high yardage.
In what would be Estimé’s final game in a Notre Dame uniform, he put up a career-best 238 rushing yards and four touchdowns against Stanford, comprising nearly half of the team’s points. With this stunning performance, he set a Notre Dame record for single-season rushing touchdowns, ending his time with the Irish on a high note. On Dec. 14, Estimé declared for the 2024 NFL draft.
Looking back on the last three years, Estimé has blossomed into a valuable player both on and off the field. Not only has he been priceless in his game performance, but he has taken initiative and responsibility as a leader of the team.
“It's been a journey, a ride, a lot of ups and downs, but I'm so blessed that I chose this place. This place honestly changed my life for the better,” Estimé said of his time at Notre Dame.
While this All-American running back will be deeply missed in the 2024 season, there is no doubt that he will go on to do great things in the NFL. The Fighting Irish family is looking forward to following him every step of the way.