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Football: Curtain Call

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Notre Dame’s contest against Boston College this Saturday marks an opportunity to reach a number of milestones — the eighth win of the season, the fourth win in a row and a resume builder as bowl season approaches. But for 38 seniors and graduate students, one goal rides above all: win on Senior Day.

“Win. You’ll remember this a whole lot better if you win,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “So I want them to prepare, do all the things necessary to put themselves in a good position. There will be some emotion because it’s the last game, and that’s natural.”

Although Boston College (3-7, 2-5 ACC) has struggled to find consistency on the field this season, the Eagles feature a number of premier players, none more potentially problematic for the Irish (7-3) than junior linebacker Luke Kuechly. The 2011 preseason All-American recorded a game-high 18 tackles in the Eagles’ 14-10 victory over North Carolina State on Saturday.

“We have to know where he is,” Kelly said. “We have to identify him because he’s a savvy player. And it’s like when you have that great defensive lineman … Sometimes you don’t block him and you option him.

“But there’s no denying his ability to play the game and get to the football, so we’ll have to be prepared.”

Kuechly’s natural talent and leadership role on the Eagles’ defense has drawn comparisons to a player who has taken on a similar role for the Irish at the inside linebacker position: junior Manti Te’o.

“They’re similar. I think when you talk about the really good inside linebackers — it’s interesting,” Kelly said. “It’s great tackling. The leader on their defense — I think Manti and Luke carry a lot of those [qualities]. I think physically Manti is a little bit bigger, but maybe Luke you could say is maybe a bit more agile. I don’t know. I would think maybe Manti would question that.”

While Saturday’s contest marks the final game in Notre Dame Stadium for a core group of seniors and graduate students, Kelly said the associated emotions would be a natural part of the atmosphere, not a distraction.

“I don’t know that the emotion is really an issue,” he said. “It’s when you become emotional, you know? I think emotions are fine because it’s your last home game, and you should feel those things naturally. I think when you get emotional is where you can run into problems.”

Although the hopes of a Bowl Championship Series game are all but dashed, Kelly said the Irish remain motivated by a love for the game, a desire to improve and a passion to win.

“We’re playing the game of football,” he said. These are 18 to 21-year-olds. They love to play, so their focus is on the next day. Their focus is on the opportunity to play at Notre Dame Stadium. Their focus is on not letting their teammates down.”

While seniors and graduate students take the field for the final time, several underclassmen will play key roles for the Irish on Saturday. Kelly said he believes each player will be just as motivated to win as the next.

“[The underclassmen] don’t want to let the [seniors and graduate students] down, you know, regardless if it’s their last game or not,” he said. “The underclassmen know they’re coming back, but they don’t want to let their seniors down, so I think that’s just part of the process of developing your team — that they rely on each other. So I think our guys will carry that on.”

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu