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Fasano gives Irish all-around tight end threat

Matt Lozar | Friday, October 31, 2003

Anthony Fasano is fulfilling one of Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham’s initial promises.

Upon bringing his pro-style offense to South Bend, Willingham assured Irish fans he would utilize the talented group of Irish tight ends. The season before Willingham took over, Notre Dame’s tight ends had two catches for the entire year.

Fasano leads the Notre Dame tight ends with 12 catches in 2003, including 10 in the last three games. In those three games, Fasano was either the team leader or tied for the team lead in receptions each week. Those 12 receptions through seven games are more than any Notre Dame tight end has caught in a season since Dan O’Leary’s 13 catches in 1999.

Major contributions in the redshirt freshman’s first season of playing time come as no surprise to his position coach, Mike Denbrock.

“I thought there was a lot of ability there,” Denbrock said. “[He is] someone who really presented us with some of the tools that we were looking for at the position in a guy that could catch the ball and also lineup and be a physical player as far as a blocker.”

Fasano put himself onto the radar screen with a full-layout touchdown catch in the back of the end zone against USC two weeks ago.

But that’s not the only major contribution Fasano has made recently. He caught four passes against Pittsburgh and Boston College and gives the Irish another receiving tight end threat besides Jared Clark. Denbrock attributes that success to a good chemistry between Fasano and quarterback Brady Quinn.

“I think in practice the more time we get together on the field,” Fasano said. “I think we feel more comfortable and that’s why he feels more comfortable throwing the ball to me in the games.”

Of the four tight ends Denbrock feels can regularly contribute to this team, Fasano appears to be the best all-around. Clark works best at a receiver, as seen by his six catches in Notre Dame’s first two games. Billy Palmer thrives at blocking and Marcus Freeman hasn’t developed as quickly as his classmate Fasano.

Having a multi-dimensional tight end prevents the defense from having a better chance at knowing if the play is a run or pass based strictly on personnel. The flexibility Fasano provides is something the coaching staff has searched for the past two seasons.

“[Fasano] gives us a chance not to be predictable offensively, to run and pass equally well when he’s in the game. That’s a good asset to have,” Denbrock said. “It has to continue to be part of our development. We are not nearly as far as long as I’d like to see us. But everyone can see we are starting to get some consistency with throwing to the tight end.

“That’s another receiver available to us and we have some players at that position that could make some plays for us.”

Fasano came to the Irish as a highly-touted recruit from New Jersey. He sat out last season and climbed his way to the top of the tight end depth chart while last year’s starter Gary Godsey was knocked out by a season-ending injury and incoming freshman Greg Olsen transferred.

But the coaching staff didn’t just insert Fasano into the starting lineup – he had to earn the playing time off the field.

“I think hard work every day in practice, learning the play book and working in the weight room really gave me the opportunity to get on the field,” Fasano said.

Both Denbrock and Fasano know he has a long way to go.

“I think to continue [working on] the things he’s done. The more experience he gets, the more playing time he gets, he’s going to understand that the things he has improved on can even get better and even he can grow into the position more than he has,” Denbrock said. “I’m sure he’d be the first one to tell you he has a lot of progress to make. “There are some positive signs there that he’s beginning to understand what we need for him.”