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Olsen brothers leave team within days of each other

Andrew Soukup | Wednesday, August 27, 2003

To understand what makes the Notre Dame quarterback position so unique, go find Carlyle Holiday and Brady Quinn, the only two scholarship quarterback recruits on the team.

Their presence in Notre Dame, Ind. alone is enough testament to the difficulty of wearing a red jersey and a gold helmet in practice. Holiday and Quinn are the only players since 1997 who entered Notre Dame as quarterbacks and haven’t changes positions or transferred.

Zak Kustok transferred to Northwestern. Arnaz Battle played quarterback for two seasons before a broken wrist prompted a switch to receiver. Battle’s broken wrist gave Gary Godsey two games at quarterback, but his ineffectiveness paved the way for a position change to tight end. Matt LoVecchio – Holiday’s classmate – took over as a freshman for Godsey, but transferred two and a half years later to Indiana. Jared Clark, one of the other members of the 2000 freshman class, switched to tight end last spring when it became apparent he wouldn’t see the light of day standing behind center. Abram Elam, another member of the 2000 class, switched positions even earlier, becoming a safety a few days after he arrived at Notre Dame before he got expelled in 2002 as an alleged participant in a gang rape incident.

Saturday, Chris Olsen joined the ranks of quarterbacks to leave Notre Dame. The cause? A relationship with Notre Dame coaches that Tyrone Willingham described tersely with a “no comment.” Two days later, Olsen’s younger brother Greg – regarded by one recruiting analyst as the best tight end recruit in two years and a much bigger asset to the Irish than Chris – also opted to leave Notre Dame, saying one of the big reasons he initially came to Notre Dame was because his brother also attended the University.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s four position changes and three transfers.

So what the Irish have left are Holiday, the clear-cut starter who was knocked out of three games last year and didn’t play another, Quinn, a top freshman prospect who attended his first college class yesterday, and Pat Dillingham, who threw one touchdown and seven interceptions as a backup last year.

And because Dillingham wasn’t initially offered a scholarship when he arrived at Notre Dame two years ago, Holiday and Quinn are the only two Irish quarterbacks to arrive in the past seven years who haven’t changed positions or transfer. Yet.

Why have so few stuck around?

To understand the spotlight that shines on a Notre Dame quarterback, stand with the media on a day a new starting quarterback is named and watch reporters flock to the new anointed savior like teenage boys to Anna Kournikova pictures. Then watch the old starter walk past unchallenged by the media, less popular than an ex-girlfriend.

To see the pressure a Notre Dame quarterback is under, check Internet message boards that double as ion microscopes when it comes to magnifying weaknesses. Holiday’s e-mail box was flooded with well-wishers when he was first named starter two years ago, but now he hears people doubt his passing ability.

To hear why so few have lasted as a Notre Dame quarterback, listen to the praise that surrounds Quinn even though he has yet to play a down. At one time, Holiday was the quarterback who received all that praise. Then he snapped on his chinstrap.

But there are other aspects to the quarterback position – aspects that make 8-year-olds dream of becoming the fifth Irish quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy. Joe Montana and Tony Rice earned their places in Irish lore by leading their team to legendary comebacks and national championships, and countless other quarterbacks dream of accomplishing the same things.

So when coaches couldn’t guarantee LoVecchio last spring he would start, he bolted for Indiana and a chance to start over. It’s not hard to wonder if Chris Olsen left Notre Dame in favor of Virginia for a similar reason.

No spotlight, no glory. But the flip side of the equation is this: no spotlight, no blame.

When you’re the Irish quarterback – as Holiday can attest -your every move becomes analyzed. If an offense struggles, like Notre Dame’s 108th-ranked unit last year did, the quarterback gets blamed. Never mind the receivers who forget to adjust their route to take advantage of a blitz, or the offensive linemen whose blown assignment knocks a quarterback out of the game.

It’s why some think, with untested yet highly-touted freshmen Brady Quinn waiting in the wings, that Holiday might be destined for a position change soon. Forget the fact that the option-turned-passing quarterback showed dramatic improvement throwing the ball in spring practice. If the offense stinks, so must the quarterback.

But by the same token, if the offense excels, the quarterback gets most of the credit.

That black-and-white judgment process is far from fair. It’s not for everyone.

And maybe that’s why so few can stay.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Observer.

Contact Andrew Soukup at [email protected]