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Hard work pays off for veteran Calabrese

Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Irish graduate student inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese has played a different role in each of his seasons at Notre Dame. Now, in his fifth year in the program, Calabrese has embraced the responsibilities that come with being a veteran on defense.
“It’s great being a leader and having the younger players come up and ask a question about a play,” Calabrese said at Notre Dame’s Media Day on Aug. 23. “I take a lot of pride in bringing the younger players along. Once you graduate, you have to show the younger players what our team is about and what the expectations are.”
This season, Calabrese has been not only a vocal leader for Notre Dame’s defense but also a major contributor to the Irish linebacking corps. He leads the team with 69 total tackles and is third on the squad with 5.5 tackles-for-loss.
“All the hard work, and all the time I’ve put into [football] is starting to pay off,” Calabrese said. “I put a lot of time and dedication into practicing and lifting and watching film.”
With two regular season games still remaining, the 6-foot-1, 251-pounder has already surpassed his prior single-season high of 60 tackles, which he recorded in 2010. Calabrese has also tied his career single-game high of 10 tackles twice this season, matching the number in Notre Dame’s 35-21 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 28 and in its 38-34 win over Navy on Nov. 2.
Irish coach Brian Kelly said he’s impressed by the improvements in the fifth-year’s play.
“I think he’s hitting open windows. I think he’s being aggressive to where he’s asked to attack the line of scrimmage, and he’s done a nice job for us,” Kelly said of Calabrese before Notre Dame’s 37-34 win over Arizona State on Oct. 5. “I think he’s played good football for us this year.”
For Calabrese, this season is the culmination of a journey that’s taken him from a scout team member to a key cog in the middle of Notre Dame’s defense and everywhere in between.
Calabrese, a Verona, N.J., native, entered Notre Dame in 2009 as “The Newark Star-Ledger’s” New Jersey Defensive Player of the Year and the 12th-best inside linebacker nationally, according to ESPN. Calabrese received offers from Florida, Rutgers and Boston College, among others, but said he chose Notre Dame after hearing about its history and tradition from then-coach Charlie Weis’ staff.
“I chose Notre Dame because just taking a visit here, there was no other school that has the atmosphere,” he said. “I just had a special feeling when I came to campus and saw it and just talking to the coaches, hearing about the tradition of the school and the tradition of the football team pretty much set me over the edge of coming here.”
Calabrese did not see any game action in his freshman year at Notre Dame. Despite his lack of playing time, the former Siegfried Hall resident said he saw his first year as an opportunity to improve his game.
“I took [freshman year] as a positive thing, having an extra year of getting better and getting bigger and faster and knowing the game more,” Calabrese said.
Calabrese’s opportunity to contribute to the Irish came not long after, as he started eight games in 2010. Calabrese recorded 60 tackles during the season, including 10 tackles against Michigan in his second collegiate start, and led the Irish with 3.5 tackles-for-loss on the season.
“It meant a lot to come from a redshirt season and work so hard to get better and get ready to play football,” he said. “Running out of the tunnel knowing you’re going to start is an awesome feeling.”
Despite Calabrese’s achievements in his first season on the field, he found himself behind fellow graduate student inside linebacker Dan Fox at the start of his junior season. Calabrese didn’t start any games in 2011, but he still saw significant time at inside linebacker, notching 37 tackles and three pass breakups on the season.
Calabrese said his position on the depth chart didn’t affect the way he approached games.
“I’ve always come to the game like I was going to play,” he said. “That’s what I was going to do, and I didn’t change that at all.”
For the 2012 season, Calabrese and Fox platooned at the inside linebacker position, and Calabrese started five games alongside former Irish inside linebacker Manti Te’o, his roommate on the team’s road trips.
“I learned a lot from him, and he’s a great player,” Calabrese said of Te’o. “Even this year, I went back and watched film on him and saw what he did. Even though he’s not here, he’s still helping me out a lot.’
Calabrese racked up 49 tackles over the course of his senior season and forced a fumble early in Notre Dame’s 38-0 win over Wake Forest on Nov. 17, 2012. He was also one of several Irish defenders who kept former Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor out of the end zone to preserve Notre Dame’s 20-13 overtime victory against the Cardinal on Oct. 13, 2012.
“Three or four times, we kept [Stanford] out of the end zone, and then the last time, I made the tackle,” Calabrese said. “I know I’ll remember that forever.”
Calabrese graduated from Notre Dame in May with a degree in industrial design, a major that he said allowed him to further explore his interest in art.
“Even growing up, I always liked drawing or sketching stuff, and I always liked art,” he said. “I just wanted to do something in that, and industrial design was a great fit for me.”
Calabrese said he would explore his options in the NFL after the end of the season
“I’m going to train somewhere after the season and just take it from there,” he said.
But the fifth-year inside linebacker said his focus is fully on Notre Dame’s matchup with BYU on Saturday.
“I want to win every game, and I’m going to do everything I can to win every game,” Calabrese said. “And this game, being the senior game, I’m going to leave it all on the field here.”
Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu.