A New Day
Samantha Zuba | Thursday, September 11, 2014
A perfect record through two games looks familiar to Sheldon Day.
The junior defensive lineman was a freshman when the Irish started the 2012 season 2-0 and went on to appear in the BCS National Championship Game.
That year, the promising rookie played in all 13 games, recording 23 total tackles, 13 unassisted.
Now, he’s a veteran and captain on a defense filled with players in the same place of their careers as he was two years ago. He has 11 tackles, four solo. And he knows what a team with two wins down — but a lot left to go — needs to do.
“We just can’t get satisfied,” Day said. “I feel like in 2012, we were just on a roll. … Everything just seemed to fall in place, and this year we’re definitely trying to make sure everything falls in place.”
“It’s about when it’s time to go to work and when it’s time to play,” he said. “When they’re on the field and they’re pushing, I give them a straight answer. But there’s also a time to relax when they can come and joke around with me.”
Junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones is one player who is able to unwind with Day.
“We always joke around,” Day said of Jones. “He says, ‘Sheldon, make a play, so the double team can get off me,’ so we definitely have an understanding on things like that.”
On top of all that, Day brings a lot of energy. After the Michigan game, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Day will continue to get more snaps as his high-octane personality and game keep him going.
“His energy level is so high; his motor is high, so it’s just a matter of building that up each and every week,” Kelly said.
In his first two seasons, Day had the opportunity to play alongside linemen Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, the faces and voices of the defense.
With these leaders gone, Day has to keep tabs on more than just himself when preparing for a game.
“[I make] sure everyone around me has confidence, no matter if it’s small or great, just knowing that they know what they’re doing on each individual play,” Day said.
His style seems to work. Sophomore defensive lineman Isaac Rochell and junior defensive lineman Romeo Okwara took turns complimenting Day as they posed with him for the Insider cover.
“I love working with Sheldon every day,” Rochell said. “He pushes us and keeps us in line.”
“Sheldon’s a great guy,” Okwara added.
This season is shaping up as a breakout year for their captain.
Day came into Notre Dame as a highly-touted recruit from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis.
After a solid freshman season, Day dealt with ankle injuries at the start of his sophomore-year campaign. He missed two September games, against Michigan State and Oklahoma.
But he played in the other 11 games, making eight starts and racking up 33 tackles. He got better as the season went on, eventually logging a season-high seven tackles in the final regular-season game against BYU.
He returns home to Indianapolis on Saturday to play Purdue with this resume and continues to add to it this season.
“It’s going to be a great moment, especially being out in front of my friends and family again,” he said.
He said he has gotten a lot of ticket request and has been trying to fulfill them all, sometimes by nagging his teammates for their tickets.
“Especially the far-away guys like Florida, California, I’ve been trying,” he said.
The setting of the Shamrock Series, Lucas Oil Stadium, also is familiar to Day, who played there several times with Warren Central.
“It’s going to be amazing, especially because I’m undefeated in that stadium, so I’m going to try to keep that streak alive,” Day said.
The weekend isn’t all a big homecoming party, however. There is work to do.
The defense played well against Rice and delivered a knockout performance against Michigan, preventing the Wolverines from reaching the red zone. But the young defense playing under new-to-the-Irish defensive coordinator Brain VanGorder still has some coming together to do.“It’s just a matter of preparation, knowing that last week we didn’t play our best, and that’s what we’re striving for, so we can’t settle for a blowout against Michigan,” Day said. “We have to keep raising our level of preparation and keep focusing on this week.”
“When we have a perfect game, that’s when we will feel like we arrived,” he added.
To get there, the defense focuses on “playing as one,” he said. It helps that Day, his teammates and his coaches all are invested.
When asked what has helped the defense jump start its production this season, Day responded, “Our commitment, just knowing that everybody has their job to do and people just buying into the system so fast. Usually it takes time to build a culture and build a system, but we’re committing to it very fast and just riding with it. You can start to see us buy in every day.”
The defense will test that resolve Saturday against Purdue. The Boilermakers went 1-11 last season and lost to Central Michigan last week. But Purdue has played Notre Dame to some nail-biter finishes.
That includes the 2012 meeting, which the Irish won 20-17 when Kyle Brindza kicked a 27-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
“It seems to always be a great game, and I feel like they just play with a lot of class and a lot of character,” Day said.
Day leads the defensive line when the Irish take the field against Purdue at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.