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Can’t start a fire without a spark

Heather VanHoegarden | Sunday, December 11, 2005

No words were needed – New Jersey natives Charlie Weis and Anthony Fasano knew each other from day one.

“I think we were in stretching for one of the early morning workouts, and [Weis] said, ‘A bunch of these guys are in culture shock, they don’t know what they’re getting into with me,'” Fasano said of the first-year head coach. “And I said, ‘Ah, I know what I’m getting into.’ He’s like, ‘I know you do, but I think these guys are in culture shock.'”

The new head coach and senior tight end instantly felt comfortable around each other. Fasano, a Verona, New Jersey native, was natural for Weis to relate to.

“There are certain guys that, walking in the door, were easy to talk to,” Weis said. “For me, Fasano was one of them. [Safety Tom] Zbikowski was one of them. These guys were just easy for me to talk to because I don’t even have to say anything to them and they know what I’m saying. I just give them one of my looks, I don’t even have to say it, they already know what that means.

“Some of these guys had to learn what those looks meant, but Anthony was one where I didn’t have to say.”

Weis, a Trenton, New Jersey native, said that to Fasano, he was just another guy from New Jersey.

“He’s seen me 1,000 times,” Weis said. “He knows 1,000 Charlie Weises, whereas a lot of these guys, they only know one.”

And for Fasano, his new head coach was one with whom he felt an immediate connection.

“It’s something that attitude, that New Jersey-type attitude, a little swagger, a little chip on your shoulder, a little sarcasm,” he said. “I think it’s what people had to get used to, but something I could relate to.”

New coach, new offense

It was no secret coming into this season that Fasano was one of Notre Dame’s best players. Last year he was second on the team with 27 catches for 367 yards and four touchdowns, and was one of the Irish’s most reliable receivers. His 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame was also a formidable presence as a blocker at the line of scrimmage.

So this year, all eyes were on Fasano to see what he could do in Weis’s new offense – and Fasano has responded. Through 11 games, he has 45 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns, third on the Irish to only wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall. Weis called him one of Notre Dame’s most consistent players this season because of not only his pass-catching abilities, but his blocking as well.

“I think that his goal every game starts with being able to dominate on the line of scrimmage as a blocker, because his No. 1 job is to be an extension of the offensive line,” Weis said of the senior. “Obviously, every tight end wants to be running routes and catching balls. Every skill player wants the ball in his hands. Well, you better be able to block at least in this offense, because this offense isn’t one where the tight ends detach all over the place and just run routes as a receiver. It all starts with having the run-pass threat. And I think Anthony’s been one of our most consistent players this season.”

Fasano said although he loves catching the ball, he gets just as much satisfaction from springing running back Darius Walker free with a block as from catching a pass.

“I think because I worry about how the team views me, not so much about the media and the stats, [I don’t worry about catching every pass],” Fasano said. “So I take pride in blocking. I get excited when Darius springs a long run and I was the cause of that. I think that’s just as rewarding.”

Pass right

But one of Fasano’s most memorable plays this year came on a reception against Washington on Sept. 24. The Irish were backed up at their own 1-yard line for their first offensive play of the game, a play that Weis had promised to 10-year old Montana Mazurkiewicz would be a pass to the right. Mazurkiewicz, a huge Notre Dame fan who had an inoperable brain tumor, passed away on the Friday before the game, but Weis kept his promise.

Irish quarterback Brady Quinn ran the play-action pass and found Fasano. He leapt over a defender for a 13-yard gain, and Mazurkiewicz’s play call had worked.

“We knew a couple days leading up to it what the situation was with Montana,” Fasano said. “We got in the huddle and I asked Brady if we were still going to run it, so I was pretty excited…I think it just showed the character of our coaching staff and our players.”

A true competitor

It is no secret that Fasano, who won 12 letters in high school, is athletic. His leap over the Washington defender demonstrated that. But with this athleticism comes a competitive desire.

Last spring Fasano took up golf after his father started playing and telling his son he could win. It didn’t take long for the son to catch up.

“My dad started playing, and being competitive, I always wanted to beat him,” said Fasano, whose best round is an 88. “About the third time we went out, I was beating him already, and I haven’t lost since. I know he’s struggling with that, but it’s just to prove a point that the young kid’s still got something.”

He said he bought a new set of clubs this summer and played as much as he could when he was home in New Jersey, much to the dismay of his parents – or just their credit card.

“I caught that disease [golf] this summer,” Fasano said. “My parents’ credit card didn’t like it too much, but I looked at it as a little loan. So I caught the golf bug.”

A future of green

And if Fasano keeps playing the way he has this season, he may not have to borrow much more money from his parents. Although he has one year of eligibility remaining, the senior, who will graduate in May with a degree in marketing, may decide to declare for the NFL draft. He said he will talk to Weis, his family and players who have elected to leave with one year remaining (Justin Tuck, Jeff Faine) as well as those who decided to come back for a fifth year (Mark LeVoir, Dan Stevenson) in making his choice.

“I think those are the best resources I can use,” Fasano said. “I’m just going to weigh all my options and see what decision is going to be best for me and my family and make the decision after the bowl.”

The senior is making no promises either way. He said he will do what he wants, but at a certain point, it becomes a business decision.

“I know that if you’re anywhere from the [draft’s] third or the second day then I think I’d play a lot more on what I want to do,” Fasano said. “But if it’s more the top part, then I think it’s more of a business decision and what you have to do for yourself and your family in the future.”

And as serious as Fasano is about football and golf, his roommate Quinn says he’s really not how he appears.

“He’s a funny guy,” Quinn said. “It’s funny seeing him talk to all you guys in an interview because he gets this look on his face where its all serious. He really is a goofball. I love being around that kid. I don’t know why he gets so uptight around everyone else.”

Well, except around Weis.