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The Gold Rush Continues

By STEPHANIE CHAMBERS | Friday, September 5, 2003

The once student-filled campus now encompasses the presence of moms, dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents alike. Masses at the Basilica, followed by the triumphant processions of the Notre Dame marching band, pre-game practices and the Irish prayers sound again. This pre-game ritual, which dates before Rudy’s time at Notre Dame, commences with the first game of the 2003-2004 football season this Saturday against Washington State.

The flocking of devoted spectators from across the country may fill the seats on Saturday, but the team has occupied the stadium since August 10th. While many students were enjoying their ending days of summer, the team spent many grueling hours participating in two practices a day. The two-a-day practices ended two Saturdays ago, in exchange for one intense two-hour daily practice, hours of watching films as a team and then again as an individual and lifting three days a week. Watching the films a second time individually gives the players more insight and concentration on the game. The vigorous efforts put forth by the team may explain senior Jerome Collins’ positive attitude towards this years upcoming games.

“Practices are going well and I wouldn’t change the habits of the team from last year’s routines. Everyone grows from year to year. The offense is better this year, too. Last year, the defense stopped offense a lot. This year, Carlyle is more accurate in practice. He’s performing his quarterback position even better at every practice. There really is no one person to look for this season. You never know because practices go great, but reacting to game situations is completely different,” said Collins.

The team as a whole sounds like they are ready for the big day. But, how are the freshmen football players adjusting to the new wonders of Notre Dame football? The freshmen graduated from high school being named the top-notch players by scouts. “They are now the bottom line again, feeling as if they are nobody’s,” said Collins, describing how he felt during that year, as well.

“They get used to it, along with the rigorous team schedules and practices. But, we try to keep them awake and moving when they get tired.”

Collins said that he “can’t wait to get that first hit in” because practice is growing routine. “Hitting the same person day in and day out gets old.”

The team may grow accustomed to playing one another, but his positive assertion of the team confirms the team status. “Coach tells us to be the best whenever we can,” and that will take the team to dominating rankings.

Currently, Collins said he is not worried about future games, saying he takes it “one game at a time. Otherwise, you’re not focused on the team. We need to put our worries on the present game.”

“Getting the ring and being National Champions will only happen by being the best we can be.”

He says that making each game the focal point as it nears will lead the team all the way despite any criticism from outsiders.

“The team went 8-0 last year in light of criticism regarding coaching changes. We kept focused and finished 10-3 at the Gator Bowl. This was our greatest accomplishment [and it showed the true] testament of the team’s resolve to be the best.”

Focusing on each game as it comes appears to be the best way to tackle the season, along with the help of the fans.

Collins applauds the fans for their outstanding motivation.

“It wouldn’t be fun if 20,000 fans weren’t cheering.” He said the fans help keep the enthusiasm among the team members because the adrenaline from students and fans in the stands aids in the rush of excitement experienced on the field. Player Anthony Fassano said he agrees with his teammate.

“We are playing in front of the best fans in the nation!” Fassano said.

The players are not the only ones who enjoy the out of tune crowd chanting. Many seniors have already begun to realize the beginning of this season is twofold, as it is their last season, too. It is the last year to enjoy kegs and eggs with their closest friends at 6 in the morning every Saturday, the last year to be engulfed in a sea of kelly green T-shirts designed by the students of Notre Dame, the last year to engage in the unbalanced jig dances thrown off by those who are “unstable” and their final push-ups after each and every point is added to the scoreboard. These are not emotions any one person wants to focus on, but many say they cannot help feel the way they feel as opening day approaches.

Saint Mary’s senior Daniella Ernst developed these feelings as she pulled in from the toll road this year.

“The atmosphere of Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame makes the pre-game and after games experiences memorable. Yeah, I can still watch the game on TV next year, but the experience when watching the game with my friends is what counts.” Saint Mary’s senior Meg White agrees. She said what she will miss the most is the fun she had as football manager. She said she made many close friends, and watching the games without them won’t be the same. “I definitely want to come back when I can,” she said.

But, neither players nor seniors want to focus on the end and are excited to begin another season, following the team motto of “Play like a Champion.”