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Duval Kamara: After setting freshman records, Kamara settles in

Meaghan Veselik | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Growing up in Jersey City, N.J., Duval Kamara was never interested in playing football at Notre Dame, but once he arrived on campus, he knew he’d found everything.

“It [Notre Dame] actually wasn’t my first choice. I was actually interested in University of Miami but that didn’t go too well with the parents,” Kamara said. “They weren’t too sure about Miami, a big party school and all that. They thought I needed to be focused.

“Then I actually came here for a visit out here, and I liked it. The guys were cool, the coaches were great, I thought it was a perfect fit.”

Finding that perfect fit enabled Kamara to set freshman records for receptions and receiving yards, allowed a smooth transition to college life and find a family he wouldn’t have found anywhere else.

“I think that’s one of the things about Notre Dame’s football team — the guys in the locker room,” he said. “These are the guys that you’ll talk to for the rest of your life, your brothers, your family. That’s just another reason I came to Notre Dame, just the guys around me. I’m going to keep in touch with these guys for years and years to come. It’s a pretty special thing.”

Kamara’s close relationship with his teammates began that freshman season, when his older teammates aided him in taking his game to the next level as he prepared to wear his No. 18 Irish jersey.

“Coming in as a freshman, I thought it was a pretty smooth transition. You know you have older guys like [graduated players] David Grimes, D.J. Hord, they helped us out, the young guys, myself and Golden [Tate], the freshmen coming in,” he said. “They helped us and prepared us for the offense and basically college ball.”

The leadership that Grimes and Hord showed became instilled in Kamara, who tries to emulate his former teammates around his new, younger teammates and set an example that they too can follow. He feels that a large part of this comes with being a senior on the team.

“It feels good to actually be a senior, you know, to be at the top of the locker room. The guys look up to you, and you have to play that role,” Kamara said. “I think that comes with the territory of being a senior. And just ways that you can lead the team, ways that you probably don’t think about it but you are leading the team just because you are a senior.”

Kamara leads with his approach to practice every day and an attitude that he knows will lead to better results.

“Just going out there and working every day, and showing the guys that you have to work every day, every day that you’re supposed to and if you do little things, it’ll all work out,” Kamara said.

Another important lesson that Kamara works to instill in his underclassmen teammates is that the team surrounding them is everything, and that’s what makes Notre Dame more special than any other university.

“I think the guys in that locker room know it’s all about the players around you,” he said. “Those are the guys that you see every day, those are the guys who, when you’re going through your worst times, those are the guys that are going to be around you. I mean it’s four years and four years is a long time.”

Kamara also said he believes the team’s family atmosphere makes the players more willing to help each other improve.

“You don’t really get sick of them,” he said. “These are guys who are going to tell you that if you’re doing something wrong, they’re going to tell you it’s wrong. Those are the type of guys you need around you. You don’t need someone who’s just going to kiss up to you. That’s just what you need, a brother, a family member, who’s going to tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.”

Kamara said his classmates have made his college experience what it is.

“I think we’re a close group of guys, I think we’ve been close since we came in freshman year, and that’s what makes it special,” he said pointing to the group of seniors around him. “It’s like everyone’s from all over the globe and we just have one thing, football, to bring us together. I mean it’s special. We all know what we want in life, we all want to achieve the highest level of this sport, and we just knew that coming in, and that’s one of the things that brought us together.”

For Kamara, the past four years seem to have flown by, and he tries not to focus on that as he approaches senior day and his final game in Notre Dame Stadium.

“It’s reality but I try not to think about it, so it’s unreal. It seems like yesterday we just came in as freshmen,” he said. “It all went by so fast. But I really don’t think about it, it’s just another chapter of life. It’s in the past right now, that’s how I think about it. I try to stay level headed.”

Although he tries to stay level headed, Kamara said he can’t help but recall the feeling of stepping into Notre Dame Stadium and wearing his No. 18 jersey for his first game with the Irish, a feeling he knows he won’t be able to find anywhere else.

“My freshman year, I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Kamara said, “I mean I was just struck, shocked about how many people were out there [in the Stadium]. That’s just part of going to Notre Dame, it’s something special, it’s a special place.”

He’s able to laugh and smile about it now, but Kamara said he wasn’t so relaxed when he first was called in to play.

“My first game — oh man, I was nervous. My first play of freshman year, I went out there and my legs are shaking, my arms are shaking, and I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to mess up, I don’t want to mess up.’ And I actually caught my first pass on my first play,” he recalled.

That first play led to a standout freshman season in 2007 in which Kamara surpassed legendary Irish receiver Tim Brown’s rookie record for catches with 32, including four touchdown catches, and he recorded 357 receiving yards in 11 games.

Kamara continued to be a contributor for Notre Dame in his sophomore and junior seasons, playing in a combined 25 games with 14 starts. So far this season, he has played in six games, notching 68 receiving yards.

“It’s something special,” Kamara said. “It’s kind of like you’re going to war with your guys. You walk down the hall, tap the walls, tap the ‘Play Like A Champion Today’ sign. It’s something special, you can’t explain it unless you’re part of it. It’s something hard to understand, but it’s something special. Walking out and just looking around at 80,000 people.”

Although he’s no longer a freshman, Kamara said he still feels the same nervous excitement that he felt as a first year player whenever he emerges from the tunnel with his Irish teammates.

“I always have butterflies, that’s just who I am. But as a senior, you go out there with the confidence, a different swagger about yourself, you just want to perfect everything you do,” Kamara said.

Driving that swagger and desire for perfection for Kamara are both his family and teammates.

“Just knowing I’m doing it for someone, and another thing is the program. Just doing it for years to come, and eventually a National Championship, and I can say I was part of building that.”