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To Victor go the spoils

Andrew Soukup | Thursday, September 25, 2003

What does Victor Abiamiri have in common with former Irish players Anthony Weaver, Renaldo Wynn and Bryant Young?

All are defensive linemen. All started as true freshmen. And Weaver, Wynn and Young, who went on to start four years, all were NFL first- or second-round draft picks.

It’s a standard Abiamiri hopes to live up to.

“Notre Dame has had a wonderful tradition of making good players,” he said. “I’m still young. I hope I can listen to the older players and I hope it can happen. The rest is in God’s hands.”

With the way Abiamiri has been playing lately, though, teams are going to take notice of him sooner rather than later.

Making his first collegiate start against Michigan State in place of injured Justin Tuck, Abiamiri recorded eight tackles – the second-most on the team, behind human tackle-eating linebacker Courtney Watson. Although Notre Dame lost, the Irish were impressed by Abiamiri’s play at defensive end.

“When he came out and played as well as he did,” Tuck said, “he made plays that normal freshmen don’t make.”

Were it not for a recruiting violation, though, Abiamiri might have followed his two older brothers to Maryland. But on the eve of national signing day last February, reports surfaced that a Maryland assistant coach had given Abiamiri $300. The secondary violation cost the coach his job and Maryland its chance at landing the 6-foot-6, 245-pound lineman.

Abiamiri went to Notre Dame believing Tyrone Willingham’s philosophy that the best players would play, regardless of year. But he had no idea if he’d even crack the playing field.

“I knew I could be good, I knew I had potential, but I didn’t really know how I stacked up against the other players,” Abiamiri said. “If I came in and played my best, I knew I would have a chance.”

That’s what he did. After struggling through fall camp and impressing coaches with his solid technique and willingness to learn, Abiamiri made his way onto the two-deep depth chart and started earning more repetitions in practice. He saw playing time in Notre Dame’s first two games, but admitted to a case of the butterflies when he found out he would be starting in place of a banged-up Tuck.

“Victor’s appearance is not just based on injury,” Willingham said. “Victor has played very well when he arrived in our camp. He’s shown himself to be a physical player, he’s shown himself to be an intelligent player, and he’s adapted very well to college football.”

Although Abiamiri initially cracked the starting lineup because of an injury, Willingham said that wouldn’t be the last time he made a significant contribution for the Irish this season. The plan now is to rotate Abiamiri and Tuck in and out of the game as the season wears on.

“You’ll see Victor on the football field a lot the next few years,” defensive line coach Greg Mattison said, “as long as he continues doing what he’s doing.”