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Early enrollees eagerly await Stadium debut

Chris Masoud | Thursday, April 14, 2011

Individually, each of them hails from a different state, plays a different position on the field and dominated the competition in high school, but together the five early enrollees are already making an impact during their first month of organized football at Notre Dame.

While many Irish fans eagerly await the debut of the enrollees in Notre Dame Stadium in Saturday’s annual Blue-Gold scrimmage, the feeling is mutual.

“It’s going to be a great feeling when I walk out of the tunnel since I’ve been a Notre Dame fan all my life,” early enrollee kicker Kyle Brindza said. “I’ve been in pressure situations in high school, so I’m able to cope with the pressure pretty well. It’s going to be a blast to walk out of that tunnel, but it’s not going to faze me too much.”

A football and soccer standout in high school and a native of Canton, Mich., Brindza was recruited by Michigan following his junior year. Brindza said once Notre Dame showed interest, the decision to graduate a semester early and leave his home state was an easy one.

“There was no way I could take another school’s offer over Notre Dame,” Brindza said. “It’s such an amazing school, growing up a Notre Dame fan. My grandpa graduated here. I was so blessed that I was able to even get an offer to come here.”

Brindza, who will compete for playing time at two positions behind senior kicker David Ruffer and sophomore punter Ben Turk, said the tougher decision was giving up a future in competitive soccer. However, the kicker has taken up Ruffer as a mentor on and off the field and has no misgivings over the sacrifice.

“It’s tough here only playing one sport when in high school I was playing two sports all year round,” Brindza said. “It’s a pretty big transition, but I’m glad I took the leap in. I live with no regrets, and I don’t regret quitting soccer to play football because I love it here.”

Early enrollee Ishaq Williams has also found mentors in juniors Darius Felming and Steve Filer. Williams, an outside linebacker and native of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the veteran linebackers have given him advice in his pursuit of the ball, his technique and his quarterback reads.

“Darius and Filer are great guys,” Williams said. “I don’t think I would be able to make the strides that I have made without them. They’re the players I look to tell me what to do. They’ve been there to help me with this process.”

The early enrollment process can be a daunting one for any freshman, let alone five 18-year-olds representing a handful of students in the nation that sacrificed a final semester of high school to compete at the Division I level. That adjustment to college can be especially difficult in the classroom, where Williams said he has made strides to grasp new material.

“I didn’t feel comfortable, but I didn’t feel like I made a mistake [enrolling early],” Williams said. “I didn’t want to stay in New York to just get lazier and not work as hard. I just wanted to get into the swing of things and establish myself at this level.”

While Brindza and early enrollee Everett Golson said first year composition has been a particularly difficult class, each has been using the available resources to succeed. Pleased with the progress each of the five has made on the field, Irish coach Brian Kelly is more proud of their accomplishments as students.

“They get thrown into a very competitive environment, almost more so than football when it comes to academics, and they are fighting their tails off,” Kelly said. “I think that’s what I’m most proud of for the five guys.”

Golson, a native of Myrtle Beach, S.C., has put in additional work inside the classrooms of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, where he studies film with his fellow quarterbacks. A versatile athlete, Golson said he has received advice from quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs this spring.

“We could be up sometimes [at] 8, 9 o’clock at night just watching film, and those guys are really into it just helping me,” Golson said. “Everybody’s just focused on one goal, and that’s winning a national championship.”

Golson added that the majority of his education has been nonverbal, as he has taken cues from Crist and Rees on the field to develop the leadership skills of the quarterback position.

“I’m learning a lot,” Golson said. “Most things I’ve learned are not really from the playbook, but the intangibles: how to carry yourself, being that leader on the field and just a lot of stuff from those guys that is not from talking to [them].

In the trenches, early enrollees Brad Carrico and Aaron Lynch have also made progress on different sides of the ball. Carrico made the switch from a defensive end to an offensive tackle during his senior year of high school in Dublin, Ohio, while Lynch is transitioning from a high school to a Division I end.

“I was always bigger than everybody, bigger than the offensive linemen, so I guess I had an advantage over everybody,” Lynch said, “But here I’m smaller than all the offensive linemen. You can’t just use your bull rush. We go over all the techniques and the moves because you have to use those at this level. You can’t run over someone here.”

A native of Cape Coral, Fla., Lynch committed to Notre Dame following a visit from defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in early January. Lynch and Williams competed together in the 2011 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and Irish fans will see them on the field together again this Saturday.

“We have a great relationship because we room together,” Lynch said. “Sometimes we’ll go over plays together, and on the field he’s a cat [linebacker], so he’s right next to me sometimes when we’re in a dime or nickel [package].”

Kelly indicated the spring scrimmage will do less to determine starting positions in the fall than performance over the course of the training season.