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Billy Palmer: No regrets

Matt Lozar | Friday, November 12, 2004

Billy Palmer’s career at Notre Dame hasn’t been flashy.

With two regular season games left in his Notre Dame career, the Wyntree Heathrow, Fla. native only has four career catches for 44 yards and zero touchdowns.

He gets lost in the shuffle behind junior Anthony Fasano who has broke onto the scene this year, sophomore John Carlson who is earning more playing time by the week and even converted linebacker and fifth-year senior Jerome Collins who was making strides before suffering an injury against Stanford.

But what Palmer brings not only to the tight end position, but also the Notre Dame offense is something that can’t be seen on the field.

“I think above all he brings a great deal of leadership and stability to the position,” Irish offensive line and tight ends coach Mike Denbrock said. “He’s been around the world more than once and lends a great deal of experience not only to the position but to the other guys that are there.

“He’s really done a great job of leading our whole entire offense let alone our tight ends.”

That might not translate into filling out the stat sheet, but with a total of six tight ends competing for valuable playing time, Palmer has found his role with the Irish in his fifth and final season in South Bend.

“I feel if you just do your best and work your hardest, they’ll find a spot for you,” he said.

Coming to Notre Dame

Palmer was born in Ottawa and played rugby through his sophomore year of high school. Team Canada selected Palmer to be on the under-18 team for rugby, but his family moved to Florida, and Palmer concentrated more on football. He played offensive tackle with former Irish All-American center and current Cleveland Brown Jeff Faine as a junior in 1998 before Palmer transferred to Lake Highland Prep in Orlando for his senior year.

Palmer caught eight passes his senior year as a tight end to go along with 50 tackles as a defensive end.

That’s when college decision time came.

And for Palmer, just like many other high school seniors, whether they play football or not, it was something unexplainable that swayed the final decision to choose the Golden Dome.

“It came down to Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame,” Palmer said. “I really felt comfortable here and everyone talks about the combination of academics and athletics, but for myself, it was the special feeling I had.”

Former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie and his staff recruited tight ends to play a different role in the offense from what current coach Tyrone Willingham’s offense uses tight ends for. Davie’s tight ends were used as blockers and were an afterthought as a pass receiver.

In his last season in South Bend, Davie’s tight ends caught a combined eight passes throughout the entire year.

This year’s team has 38 catches through nine games.

For Palmer, it’s been difficult, but worthwhile.

“I’m very grateful for the previous staff for bringing me here and very grateful for the current staff for developing me as a player,” he said. “Every time you go through transition, it’s not an easy thing, but I was fortunate enough to grasp the offense and they were confident enough in me to play, so it was a positive transition for me.”

With Willingham and Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick incorporating more of a pro-style offense, the tight end is obviously used more. Willingham recruited tight ends to fit his system that were more complete players where opposing defenses couldn’t guess run or pass based just on personnel.

With six players at one position, the competition at tight end became intense, but worthwhile.

“I think every coach demands of his players to be a complete player,” Palmer said. “Definitely with this many tight ends, you had to work that much harder to be a complete player”

“That type of competition only makes you better. I’ve been blessed with some great guys. It’s friendly competition, but there definitely was some competition in the offseason and during the season, but it’s helped us all.”

‘The Bachelor’ not for him

Many people make the connection with Palmer and his brother, Jesse, who was “The Bachelor” during the show’s spring season and is a backup quarterback for the New York Giants.

But Palmer jokes about not following his brother’s footsteps.

“Too ugly,” he said.

One family member Palmer could follow the footsteps of is his father, Bill, who played for in the Canadian Football League. In the 2004 CFL draft, the British Columbia Lions selected Palmer in the fifth round.

“It’s definitely an honor. Being a Canadian citizen, there’s a certain amount of pride,” Palmer said. “Being selected by the B.C. Lions was definitely an honor to me, and I’m very proud to be Canadian and very proud of the CFL and might be something I pursue down the road.”

Palmer’s dad, just like throughout his life, hasn’t pressured his son to play in Canada.

“My father has always been very happy with me in letting me do what I want to do, so long as I’m successful and work hard at what I do, he’s happy,” Palmer said. “If that’s the case, it just might be it.”

His position coach thinks if Palmer wants to play professionally, the CFL is a viable option.

“I think it’s up to him,” Denbrock said. “If that’s something he chooses to pursue, I think he’s got that type of ability.”

Palmer hasn’t had a career filled with lots of receptions or touchdowns, but that hasn’t developed any ill feelings about his decision to attend Notre Dame for the past five years.

For Palmer, it’s about realizing what an opportunity the past five years have been.

“You know what, I’ve been extremely fortunate to be here and play with some good football players, and I’ve enjoyed my experience no regrets,” Palmer said.