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Football: Weis uses seniors to motivate squad

Chris Khorey | Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When a team is 1-9, it’s hard to find motivation.

That is why Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is calling on his team to “win one for the seniors” Saturday against Duke in the season’s final home game.

“As far as the underclassmen go, I think that they have to put any selfishness aside,” Weis said. “This isn’t a game you worry about for those guys, worrying about next year. It’s sending [the seniors] out the right way.”

Weis said when he first came to Notre Dame, he didn’t realize how emotional senior days would be for departing players. It only sunk in during Notre Dame’s final home game of Weis’ first year as coach, against Syracuse in 2005.

“I know offensively it took us over a half just to really get anything going at all because there was a lot of guys that are going through what’s happened in their careers over the last four or five years,” Weis said of that game. “It’s something that you have to try to keep them grounded.”

Most of the time, Weis said, he tries to keep his team on an even keel, trying not to make any game more important than the others. But he also aims to have a new motivational message for each game, and sentimentality is the easy choice for this week.

“I think that each week you try to have a message for that game, so I think it actually plays right into that, our way of looking at it one week at a time,” he said. “That happens to be the message for this game right here.”

Even though his team is basically playing for next season at this point, Weis said, he would not bench any of his starting seniors.

“Let me take, for instance, John Carlson. I’m not going to take John Carlson and say, ‘OK, your career is over now,'” Weis Weis said. “I’m not doing that. He came back [for a fifth year] to play. He didn’t come back here to cheerlead. I think you owe him the right to play.”

Sullivan to miss Saturday’s game

Fifth-year senior center John Sullivan will miss Saturday’s game because of the undisclosed injury that forced him out of the Air Force game.

Sullivan has been aiding freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen with pre-snap reads, including identifying the middle linebacker. Weis said that duty will fall on back-up center Dan Wenger this week but that Clausen is close to being able to do it on his own.

“We’ll start with Danny, see how it goes, and if it isn’t going too well, we’ll put the burden on the quarterback,” Weis said. “We’d like to, as it goes into this offseason, put

all the burden on the quarterback.”

Weis said Sullivan will help Wenger and Clausen with the reads in practice.

“We’ll give him a constructive role this week where he won’t just feel like he’s pushed off to the side,” Weis said. “He’ll almost be like an extra assistant coach out there, which that will help us, too, this week.”

Wenger has played both guard and center this season, but Weis said the sophomore is more suited to the role of center.

“Danny is a much more natural center than guard,” he said. “He’s more comfortable in there. That’s where he played his whole high school career, and although we’ll greatly miss Sully and all he’s done on and off the field for us, having a guy like that who is a natural center in there, I think this gets him into his natural position rather than being knocked over at the guard.”

Weis said he is hopeful Sullivan will be able to return for the season finale against Stanford, but the coach doesn’t want to rush him back and hurt his chances in the NFL.

“You’re always concerned about something happening which would cost you a little time,” Weis said.

Vaas returns to Notre Dame Stadium

Peter Vaas, who was Notre Dame’s quarterbacks coach in Weis’ first two seasons in South Bend, will return this weekend as Duke’s offensive coordinator.

Weis said the fact that Vaas knows the Irish offense is “a pain in the butt,” but that Vaas won’t be able to steal any Notre Dame signals.

“The only signaling we really do offensively is signaling numbers,” Weis said. “So unless you have the number sheet and know what we’re doing, that would be the only way that it could really hurt you.”

Other injuries

Weis said junior nose guard Pat Kuntz and sophomore safety Sergio Brown will not play against the Blue Devils, while freshman tight end Mike Ragone and fifth-year senior punter Geoff Price are unlikely to play because of injuries.