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Turning a new page

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, August 26, 2005

There is a new coaching staff, a new facility and maybe most importantly, a new season. For this year’s Irish, coming off a 6-6 campaign, these changes seem to be good things.”I was excited [for the first game] as soon as I got back from summer,” junior safety Tom Zbikowski said. “I’ve been waiting for Sept. 3 since the end of the season. I mean, we want to prove to the nation that we’re not a 6-6 program.”

Welcoming fresh facesWhen Charlie Weis was introduced as the new head coach on Dec. 13, he began to set the tone for his tenure at Notre Dame.”I can tell you this,” he said. “You are going to have a hard-working, intelligent, nasty football team that goes on the field because the attitude of the head coach will be permeated through the players. And I hate to include the nasty, but that is part of being a winning football team.”And since he was hired, Weis has worked to instill his attitude in his players and coaching staff.”I think we definitely have taken on some of the attitude and personality that Coach Weis has, that Coach Weis has on the offensive side of the ball and on the defensive side of the ball,” offensive lineman Ryan Harris said. “I think that’s just a microcosm of us playing under his system.”And exactly what is that attitude that Weis tries to pass down?”Definitely physical, definitely not accepting anything but perfection,” Harris said. “If you have a good play you can still get coached up on it. Never be satisfied with what you are – always get better. And work through the tough times at practice and the hard days.”Weis, however, hasn’t been exactly what Harris expected coming in.”The way he spoke to us in camp and the way he coaches us definitely is contradicting to how player-friendly he is,” Harris said. “Sometimes he coaches us hard, but at the same time, if we do what he asks, he has no problem being a player-friendly coach.”Besides his own philosophies, Weis brought along with him an experienced coaching staff. From director of personnel development Ron Powlus, who played at Notre Dame, to defensive backs/assistant head coach for defense Bill Lewis, who coached nine seasons in the NFL, the Irish have a variety of coaches from a range of backgrounds.Quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas replaced David Cutcliffe in June when Cutcliffe resigned due to health reasons. Vaas came from NFL Europe, where he was a head coach. Third-year quarterback Brady Quinn describes Vaas as a detailed-oriented coach much like Weis.”They’ve been on us all camp about different things with the offense or with our technique,” Quinn said of Vaas and Weis.There’s also recruiting coordinator/wide receivers coach Rob Ianello, who has helped Weis land 12 verbal commitments thus far. But Ianello came to Notre Dame for a different reason.”I think the opportunity now to take Notre Dame to its rightful place in college football was too great of an opportunity to pass up,” he said.

Playing catch-upMany major Division I college football programs have breathtaking facilities. Take Syracuse, a 2005 Irish opponent. The Orange has a computer cluster for its student-athletes as well as a cafeteria all in the same building as its weight room, meeting rooms and more.And at Notre Dame, thanks to a donation from Don F. and Flora Guglielmino, the Irish were able to enter the facilities race.The Guglielmino Athletics Complex opened earlier this month on the campus, adjacent to the Loftus Center. It houses all of the football locker rooms and coaches’ offices. Its facilities are state of the art, with a brand new weight room, training room, recruiting lounge and meeting rooms.”We wanted a clean slate – new coaches, everyone’s new, new facilities, new everything,” Zbikowski said. “It’s awesome,” freshman Paul Duncan said. “Everything’s right here. It’s really nice.”

Starting overWith 10 starters returning, the Irish offense is excited to get back on the field for a new season. Now that they have a new offense, it’s another chance to show what they can do under the reins of Quinn.”A clean slate, yes and no, just in the fact that we have a new offense, we have a new opportunity to execute the plays that we’re given and the kind of mentality and the atmosphere that we’re around,” Harris said. “So it’s a new start, as far as a clean slate, I don’t know if I’d call it that, but definitely a fresh start and a new opportunity.”And with only a week until the first game, the Irish offense is starting to feel better about its abilities.”We feel very confident right now,” senior wide receiver Maurice Stovall said. “We expect to win a lot of games and go out and compete everyday and we try to bring that to practice everyday, also. I like the way we’re approaching the game now. Guys are more confident and we’re going to be more effective this year.”

Proving a point For the past two years, the Irish have had disappointing seasons, with a 5-7 record in 2003 and a 6-6 record last season. This year’s team is on a mission to show that is not its kind of team.”If anything, we have to prove a lot to ourselves, each other, the coaching staff has been putting a lot of effort into it,” Stovall said. “We had to overcome all the troubles we had in the offseason as far as coaching changes. But we’re more focused now, and yeah, we have a lot of facilities, but if anything, we have to prove it to ourselves.”Zbikowski, the leader of a secondary that was especially picked on last season – giving up an average of 281.2 yards per game in the air – said the team has extra motivation to do well this season.”It’s also we want to prove to ourselves,” he said. “We put in so much work, the coaches put in so much work – we deserve to win and that’s what we want to do.”