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Football Notebook: Bettis makes return to ND

Eric Retter | Monday, April 24, 2006

Former Notre Dame running back Jerome Bettis said Saturday’s Blue-Gold game was the first time he returned to Notre Dame Stadium since entering the NFL in 1993.

Bettis was one of four honorary coaches for the game, along with former Irish standouts Rocket Ismael, Bob Golic and Mike Golic.

Bettis said he had seen road games when Notre Dame played near Pittsburgh when he was with the Steelers, but time constraints kept him from attending road games.

“I had a day job, so I couldn’t make it,” he quipped.

Bettis’ appearance was a long time in the making. Bettis said a prior commitment prevented him from serving as an honorary coach at last year’s Blue-Gold Game but told Irish coach Charlie Weis that he would coach in the 2006 event.

“He booked me a year-and-a-half in advance, and didn’t let me get out of it,” Bettis said. “It was like, you are booked, it’s a done deal, go to the next question,”

Bettis said he was glad to finally return to the fold at Notre Dame.

“It was fun I got some goosebumps going down the tunnel,” he said. “I’m just glad to be back and be a part of everything that’s going on.”

u The attendance of 41,279 was the highest in Blue-Gold history.

Bob Golic attributed this to the excitement Weis and his coaching staff have brought to the program.

“There is a different look in people, there’s a different look in the eyes of the players there’s a different look in the eyes of the fans, because they see something,” he said. “Everything is going in the right direction, [and] because of that, there’s this optimism, this excitement; people are actually enjoying going to the game.”

u Junior punter Geoff Price had a strong showing Saturday afternoon, moving him closer to becoming the starting punter. Price punted the ball four times, with punts of 43, 43, 50 and 52 yards for a 46.3-yard average.

“It’s good to see price punting the ball pretty [well],” Weis said. “He had multiple 50 yard punts, that lifts my spirits.”

u Irish kicker Carl Gioia struggled Saturday, going 1-for-3 in field goals and missing both within 40 yards.

“Missing two field goals, sign me up it concerns me,” Weis said.

But he was pleased that Gioia rebounded and made the kick to end the game.

“Even though it’s not the pressure of real game it’s still the last play of the game,” Weis said. “You kick the field goal, you’re either in overtime or you win the game in regulation. It’s just like when a quarterback throws an interception, you want to come out there and throw a pass right off the bat and get it out of the way, well same thing with field goals.”

u Notre Dame running back Travis Thomas capped his strong spring with the 77-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Weis said Thomas’ hard-hitting style complements starting running back Darius Walker’s finesse game well.

“[Thomas] is just going to pound you and pound you and pound you and hit you in the mouth,” Weis said. “He’s very unique, because there are very few offensive players with defensive mentalities. He plays the game like he’s a linebacker.”

u Notre Dame senior linebacker Mitchell Thomas started for the Gold team – with the defensive first team – and looks to compete for a spot to join Maurice Crum Jr., who is currently injured, in the starting linebacking corps.

Mitchell Thomas joined sophomore Anthony Vernaglia and freshman Paul Quinn as the starters for Gold.

u Irish freshman Evan Sharpley took steps to distinguish himself as the backup quarterback for next season. Sharpley was 10-of-12 for 112 yards.

“Completing 10 out of 12 passes, I think that’s a pretty good day,” Weis said. “I thought he held up well for himself today.”

But Weis was not pleased when Sharpley fumbled a snap early in the second half – something that competing quarterback sophomore David Wolke also did.

Wolke completed his only pass attempt of the game for eight yards.

u Weis said he has been pleased with the talent level in his receiving corps.

He said the return of consensus All-American Jeff Samardzija and the team’s former No. 1 receiver Rhema McKnight has created a buzz in some circles.

“I was talking to one of the scouts for the [New England] Patriots during pre-game, and we were looking out there at Rhema and Jeff, and they were like ‘Whoa, we got a couple of legit receivers now,'” Weis said. “You could match those two up with anybody. They’re two front line receivers.”