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Football: Who’s ready to party like it’s 2005?

Ken Fowler | Friday, April 20, 2007

Don’t expect a lot from Notre Dame.

Four inexperienced signal-callers battling for the starting quarterback job, three tailbacks of varying age fighting for the top running back spot, a new defensive scheme and a revamping of the wide receiver corps means only on thing is sure for the Irish:

They’re going be having a heck of a lot of fun.

The look was in Travis Thomas’ eyes Monday after practice. He was excited about the competition he’s been getting at tailback from highly-regarded freshman Armando Allen and highly-regarded-freshman-turned-promising-sophomore James Aldridge.

Thomas talked about the team being loose, excited and energized for the season.

It reminded him a little of the transition time between Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis. Expectations were low, changes were vast and the team had fire in its eyes. 

Thomas knows those characteristics fit the 2007 squad just as well as they did for the team two seasons ago.

And today, as both Thomas and David Grimes put it, everyone’s “hungry.”

Hungry to be the one who makes the plays that put a wry smile on the face of a distant fan expecting nothing more than effort from the Irish in 2007.

Hungry to prove that the coaching staff made the right decision on the depth chart by taking full advantage of every opportunity.

Hungry to attack when it seems like they should be the prey.

That hunger can go a long way.

“I can see it in spring ball already. The competition’s healthy. Everyone’s having fun regardless of where they’re at on the depth chart, high or low,” Thomas said. “Every day we hit it hard. [Offensive coordinator Michael] Haywood’s pushing us real hard, and it’s a good thing.

“We look forward to going out there every day and getting better.”

While the team as a whole has dropped in the esteem of most outside observers after losing so many seniors, Grimes feels like a rising star. This spring he has ascended to the No. 1 wide receiver position.

And even now he longs for his pressure-free existence as the No. 3.

“Last year … it was the best time of my life,” Grimes said

It was the best time of his life because he wasn’t the target of all the focus and could concentrate on simply performing well without grandiose expectations.

Grimes’ 2006 just might be Notre Dame’s 2007.

From Thomas’ perspective as a fifth-year on a squad thought to be rebuilding, the expectations are internal instead of external.

“We obviously feel like we have something to prove. That’s why we came back. We just want to go out there, have fun, play ball, play hard, raise expectations and raise the bar,” Thomas said of the fifth-years. “I don’t think there’s anything left for us to see. I mean, we’ve been through coaching changes; we’ve been through the ups, the downs.

“Now it’s just putting everything together and making it a smooth transition with the new guys coming in.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Welcome to 2005, Part II: Low expectations, a loose team and a whole lot of fun.

Just don’t expect the same results from the sequel. If you do, you’ll ruin the ride.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Ken Fowler at kfowler1@nd.edu