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Golic Jr. steps into starting role with Cave injured

Chris Masoud | Thursday, November 10, 2011

Notre Dame suffered its second major blow on the injury front in as many weeks Saturday, losing senior center Braxston Cave for the season due to a torn foot ligament sustained during the team’s 24-17 victory over Wake Forest. The senior had season-ending surgery Thursday to repair the ligament, but Irish coach Brian Kelly said he expects the Granger, Ind., native to return next season in his final year of eligibility.

“Braxston Cave will be out for the season,” Kelly said Tuesday. “It’s a tough loss for us, and Braxston has been a consistent performer for us over the past couple years. We feel terrible for Braxston, and again, he’s given us everything over the past two years, but he will be back, and that’s the good part about it.”

Fellow senior Kapron Lewis-Moore succumbed to a season-ending knee injury during Notre Dame’s loss to USC on Oct. 22. Lewis-Moore has been succeeded by a deep group of defensive linemen that includes freshmen Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Chase Hounshell.

Cave, on the other hand, will be replaced by the only remaining center on the Irish roster: Mike Golic Jr. The senior stepped in for Cave on Saturday, but has yet to log significant playing time at the position on game days.

“We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Mike Golic. Mike came in, played very well for us, Kelly said. “I think when you look at the center position, there’s always a great concern because that guy is put in a very difficult situation — shotgun snaps, changing up the cadence, calling out some of the defensive fronts and structures. But Mike has done a nice job, and we have a great deal of confidence.”

Kelly added that senior Andrew Nuss will move from the left guard position to a role as the backup center. Sophomore Bruce Heggie will take Nuss’ former position.

Although Notre Dame has suffered from multiple fumbled snaps this season, Kelly maintains confidence in Golic’s ability to feed the football to sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees.

“You’ve got to shotgun snap that ball to Tommy Rees, the quarterback, in a consistent fashion.” If the ball is off a little bit, it messes up the timing,” he said. “One of the traits that we’ve liked about Mike from day one is his ability to snap the ball. The other things have come. He’s gotten stronger, he’s more physical. He’s certainly not as strong as Braxston, but he is physically able to move his feet, get out and do the things.”

Although Rees has become accustomed to receiving the ball from Cave, Rees said he has an excellent feel of where Golic positions the football thanks to multiple reps and center rotations in practice.

“It’s a lot more than just making the snaps and making sure there is chemistry there,” he said. “There is a lot of communication going on with the quarterback and the center. I’ve worked with Mike a lot in the past. I don’t anticipate there to be much of an issue there.”

Golic entered Saturday’s contest in the second quarter and bolstered an offensive line that allowed Notre Dame to run out the clock with 5:24 remaining. Rees reaffirmed Kelly and the offense’s confidence in Golic’s ability to replace Cave for the remainder of the season.

“I talked to him after the first drive he was in, and said, ‘We believe in you. We don’t have any doubts,’ just to make sure that he was kind of calm and he was playing,” Rees said. “He really didn’t have to think too much — it was just to rally behind all the guys.”

Although Golic has been thrust into a starting role, Kelly credits his significant development from last year as the potential catalyst behind his success moving forward.

“The center position — those guys have to stay on their feet,” Kelly said. “Mike is getting better at that. He’s getting stronger. But he’s a BCS football player, so he’s athletic enough that he can do those things. He has to continue to develop his strength, and he has. He is so far ahead of where he was last year, and now he’s a starter for us.”