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Football: ‘Reclamation project’ turning in tangible results: wins

Bill Brink | Wednesday, October 1, 2008

There’s no way to measure how much of Notre Dame’s success this season stems from its emotion, but at 3-1, something is driving the team.

Irish coach Charlie Weis said he thought that success created more confidence in his players.

“This has been a reclamation project we have been working on,” Weis said in his press conference Tuesday. “Whether it be emotion and whether it be confidence, we’ve spent a lot of time as a team, coaches and players, working on these intangibles.”

Weis said younger players gain confidence quickly in light of success on the field. It was necessary, he said, to keep them from getting cocky and feeling that they can “show up” and win games.

“We already know that we are not good enough to do that,” Weis said. “We could lose to anybody on the schedule if we just show up.”

The team can avoid trap games easier, Weis said, because of its struggles last season.

“Every game is a new game. So you know, that’s why when we go to play against Stanford, you don’t have to say, well, they are going to feel pretty good about beating Purdue and not show up for Stanford,” Weis said.

Running back Armando Allen, whose 136 yards and a touchdown against the Boilermakers helped the Irish beat Purdue, has been atop the depth chart for most of the year, but showed improvement in practice, Weis said.

“We watched him in practice every single day, and all he’s done from the day he got here until now is continue to get better and better,” Weis said. “So it’s just a matter of time and it’s just that the time finally came.”

Weis said more players buy into the system now than previously. More players embrace the “Dive right in” mantra that Weis preached in the preseason, he said.

“All of those toe-in-the-water guys, there’s a lot less of them around now, and most of them have already taken a dip, and I think that’s a good thing because it kind of goes hand in hand with having some success,” Weis said. “The more that you have in, the easier it ends up being.”

Whether they dove in or not, the freshmen have stolen the show so far this season. Wide receiver Michael Floyd has 16 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Weis said Floyd’s ability to learn the playbook helped in his development.

“He’s been picking it up pretty quick, quicker than most people would,” Weis said. “Normally you would say a season, but some people just pick it up a lot faster and he happens to be one of them.”

Other freshmen have made their presence known. Defensive end Ethan Johnson got his first start against Purdue, cornerback Robert Blanton returned an interception for a touchdown and tight end Kyle Rudolph caught his first touchdown of his collegiate career. Older players, Weis said, are assigned to watch over and help freshmen during practice starting in the summer. Senior quarterback Evan Sharpley, for example, looks after freshman quarterback Dayne Crist and makes sure Crist knows what he’s doing.

Freshmen also have a chance to show their skills on Thursdays, when the team practices earlier. Near the end of practice, Weis said, the younger players, normally relegated to the show team, will practice against one another. Crist, tight end Joseph Fauria, wide receivers John Goodman and Deion Walker, running back Jonas Gray, cornerback Jamoris Slaughter and others get a real practice environment.

“We make sure all of the guys don’t get stale just being on the show team all the time,” Weis said.

Note:

uWeis said right guard Trevor Robinson would not supplant Chris Stewart, but would see more playing time because of his recent performance.

“We’re not trying to unseat somebody that doesn’t deserve to be unseated but at the same time, Trevor is playing well enough to make sure that we get him on the field,” Weis said.