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Carlisle excited for ‘big game’ vs. former team

Jack Hefferon | Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two years ago, the USC game was a turning point for Amir Carlisle’s season. As a freshman new to South Bend, Carlisle was the only current member of the Irish roster to win that game – as he was still playing for the Trojans at the time.

Flash forward two years, and the primetime game against the Trojans could be just as important to the now Irish junior running back.

Through his last three games, Carlisle has found playing time harder to come by in a crowded Notre Dame backfield. But with the spotlight on Carlisle as he faces his old teammates, Irish coach Brian Kelly has a hunch this week could be the Santa Clara, Calif., native’s chance to reestablish himself in the running game.

“I like hunches sometimes …When you get a sense of a game, you go with it,” Kelly said. “My guess is he’s going to be excited about the opportunity to play against USC. So we’ll be keenly aware of his want to play very well against USC.”

Carlisle will not take any chance he gets lightly. After getting 30 carries in Notre Dame’s first three games, he had a costly fumble at the end of the Purdue game and has carried the ball just eight times in the three games since.

Carlisle said while he wants what is best for the team, he hopes to do what it takes to factor into that process.

“As a competitor, I want to play. I do,” Carlisle said. “It starts on the practice field, and getting better each and every day. I’m going to continue to do what I do and give 110 percent on every play, and when my number is called, I’ll go out there and do what I can to try and make a play for my team.”

That opportunity becomes even more important to him when viewed in light of the opponent. Carlisle chose USC out of high school to stay close to his family, and the running back played on offense and special teams as a freshman. But Carlisle’s father, Duane, moved to Indiana after Amir’s freshman season to become Purdue’s Director of Sports Performance, which prompted Amir to transfer schools to remain close to his family.

“I have nothing but respect for USC and my time there,” Carlisle said. “I enjoyed myself there. I enjoyed the coaching staff. I enjoyed my teammates. I don’t have one bad thing to say about them. But it’s a game, and on the field it’s all business, and we’ve got to take care of business on Saturday.”

That makes things somewhat surreal for the junior, as he’ll be lining up across from old friends, teammates and roommates. That includes USC star receiver Marqise Lee, who Carlisle named first on a list of Trojans he still keeps up with. Carlisle said, though, that he hasn’t talked to anyone on the team this week, as the magnitude of the game has taken precedence.

“It’s a big game for the team, first and foremost,” he said. “For me, it is a big game playing against my old team. It’s a little weird, to be honest. But I’m excited, and we have to approach it like any other game. It’s a must-win for us, and we have to go out and execute.”

Carlisle said the atmosphere in South Bend two years ago was the “most live” environment the Trojans played in all season, as the music echoed through the bowl and the lights shined down. This time around, Carlisle may be lined up on the opposite sideline, but Kelly nonetheless believes Carlisle will once again have the chance to shine in South Bend.

“If we look back early in the season, he started off really well, and then we just had some other guys that have played well,” Kelly said. “He was at USC. I think you can see he’s pretty focused this week. … We really like Amir. We’ve just got to get him in the flow of the game.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu