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Early enrollees adjust to football, life at ND

Matt Gamber | Thursday, April 16, 2009

While it’s been reported that Irish coach Charlie Weis wouldn’t encourage his own child to skip the end of high school to get a jumpstart on spring football practice, Notre Dame’s three early enrollees are glad they did.

E.J. Banks, Zeke Motta and Tyler Stockton all decided to forgo the second semester of their senior year of high school, instead choosing to enroll at Notre Dame and begin their careers as college student-athletes.

“I thought that the positives kind of outweighed the negatives as far as coming in early,” said Motta, a product of Vero Beach (Fla.) High. “I just think that it’s going to be real beneficial to me – getting some classes out of the way, learning the system of college life and football life.”

But it hasn’t been a clean break from high school for the three early enrollees. In fact, it was the chance to head back home and enjoy the end of his prep career that made Notre Dame an attractive choice for Banks.

“That was one thing that I was really concerned about when I was talking to the coaches doing my recruiting,” said Banks, who played quarterback and defensive back at Montour?(Pa.)?High. “Coach Weis was probably the best about saying I could do other things I would usually do as a senior, like going to prom and going to my senior football banquet, things like that.”

Though Banks hasn’t yet seen the field as he continues to rehab a knee injury, it’s been a productive spring for the future Irish defensive back,?Weis said.

“He’s really been just recuperating, getting ready to go, and that’s gone really well,”?Weis said.

And not just on the field. Banks said that while he certainly wants to play now, he has reaped the benefits of becoming better adjusted to the rigors of college academics.

“When I first got here I was overwhelmed, but slowly but surely they have helped me along and I think I’ve gotten through the transition pretty smoothly,”?Banks said.

Stockton, who played his high school ball at The?Hun School (N.J.), has already worked his way into the mix on the interior defensive line, Weis said.

“As he’s worked his way into shape he’s shown what we thought he’d be,”?Weis said.?”[He’s] a really quick guy at the line of scrimmage who’s a pain in the butt and can penetrate. We’re very encouraged with his play on the defensive line because he did not look out of place.”

Stockton was the subject of much conversation after Notre?Dame’s lone open practice of the spring on March 28. After guard?Chris Stewart dominated Stockton in a one-on-one drill and then proceeded to stand over and slightly taunt him, Weis told Stockton not to be afraid to stand right back up and get in the upperclassman’s face.

“That was just my introduction to college football,”?Stockton said. “I realized I have to play really aggressive, really stay low on bigger guys like that, and its just the tempo – it’s faster, guys are bigger, and I have to use my quickness.”

Stockton isn’t a lock for playing time in the fall, as several other young defensive linemen are also competing for limited spots. But he has a positive outlook on his spring experience, even if it doesn’t immediately pay dividends.

“I know this is going to help me out in the long run,”?Stockton said. “Its better to come in now, get adjusted to guys like Chris Stewart and Eric Olsen – going against these guys and really knowing what to expect. Now coming into summer practice, I really have no excuses. I just have to show what I can do.”

The start of classes and practice are typically viewed as the two biggest changes for an early enrollee, but for Motta, it was something else – a South Bend winter.

“Obviously coming up here in January has been a little cold, but everythings going good,”?Motta said. “I’m enjoying it and working on my fundamentals and techniques.”

Motta played primarily defensive back in high school, but the majority of his looks with the?Irish have been at linebacker. He’s still learning the ropes, but his athleticism has impressed Weis, who said he could start immediately on all four special teams units.

“He’s been probably one of the best-conditioned guys on our team,”?Weis said. “He can run fast and he can run all over the place, but right now we’ve got to get him to run to the right spot.”

As for now, Motta is focused on running out of one spot:?the tunnel of?Notre?Dame?Stadium.

“It’s something to look forward to,”?Motta said. “I’ve been looking forward to it my whole life, and I’ve heard there’s nothing like it.”