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Landri finally emerges on defensive line

Justin Schuver | Friday, November 5, 2004

While the defensive ends might get most of the sacks and hype, the nose guards occasionally get a chance to get some of the glory as well. From the first snap of the ball they plow straight ahead, hoping to engage an offensive lineman and open things up for the rest of the defense.

And occasionally, they get a few tackles, like Derek Landri did Saturday in one of the few bright spots of Notre Dame’s 24-23 loss to Boston College.

Landri had big shoes to fill this season, coming in to compete for the job left behind after Cedric Hilliard graduated at the end of the 2003 season. But the junior nose guard has taken the job and run with it, improving each game and coming in as the second-leading tackler against Boston College with six tackles.

“Everybody talked about when Cedric [Hilliard] left and they asked how we could fill that hole left once he’s gone,” Irish defensive line coach Greg Mattison said. “When the program is going the way it’s supposed to be going then the next guy gets his opportunity and steps up.”

Landri has started every game so far this season, and has collected 28 total tackles and half a sack. In addition, the nose guard has successfully broken up four passes – a mark that leads the team. Landri has also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

Mattison said that he has been especially pleased with the lineman’s ability to bounce back from injuries. After coming in as a prep superstar out of high school powerhouse Concord De La Salle (Calif.), Landri continued to hit stumbling block after stumbling block in his early Irish career.

“I can tell you what we saw of him on high school film and we were very, very excited about him,” Mattison said. “Some felt he was one of the best nose guards in the country at that time, playing at Concord De La Salle. He’s been really unlucky in that he’s been banged up all the time.

“That to me is a real testimony to the kind of kid he is. He came in and had a badly-broken ankle when he first got here. A lot of kids would have really been down; he came back faster than he even should have probably. He then had a knee in the spring practice already up until he couldn’t go anymore and then he had his knee taken care of. He’s had a shoulder injury – Derek Landri is a warrior.”

With consistent playing time for the first time in his career, Landri is starting to live up to some of the hype he received in high school. The California product was ranked number five overall on CNNSI.com’s top 101 prospects list and was also named a first-team USA Today All-American.

“Last year was his first time playing so he really improved,” Mattison said. “He saw the pace of the game, saw what he had to see. He trained really hard in the off-season. He did everything [Irish strength coach] Mickey [Marotti] wanted him to do and then some. He just came out this year and has had a really good year.”

Landri will probably pay even more dividends next year, since he will be one of the few returning starters on the defensive side of the ball. But for now, the Irish coaches are content to let Landri make big contributions for this year’s team.

“He’s the kind of kid you want in the middle of your defense because he doesn’t say much, but when that ball is snapped he’s going to give you everything he has,” Mattison said.