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Rochell leaps into prominent role as sophomore

| Thursday, September 25, 2014

Days after games don’t feel quite like they used to for sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell.

“I remember last year thinking that I’m not really that sore [after games],” Rochell said. “We’d come in Monday, and guys would be complaining about being sore, and I was like, ‘I don’t really feel it.’

“But this year, I mean, you come in on a Monday, and you’re still a little sore, and it’s a big difference from last year to this year.”

20140913, 2014-2015, 20140913, by Emily McConville, Football, Lucas Oil Stadium, Purdue, Shamrock Series, Win 30-14Emily McConville | The Observer
But there are not many players on the Notre Dame roster who have experienced as great a turnaround from season to season as Rochell has.

As a freshman last year, he tallied 10 tackles in 11 games. Four of those came in a blowout 45-10 win over Air Force.

As a sophomore this year, he has already made 11 stops — through three games.

In fact, Rochell barely had time to catch his breath in Notre Dame’s last game against Purdue.

“I think [freshman defensive lineman] Grant Blankenship took a few [snaps against Purdue], but for the most part, I think I took most of them,” he said.

Rochell has become as steady a component on the Irish defensive line as two of his veteran junior teammates, captain Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones.

It took work for Rochell to solidify his presence on the line and to earn a top spot on the depth chart, but he said he came in to this season ready to grab that slot.

For instance, Sundays after games are typically only reserved for receiving treatment for any injuries or soreness that may have occurred the day before. But Rochell said he also takes those days to independently review film before the team does it as a whole.

“I always say that when you get in that role, you’ve been preparing like you were in that role before, so you just get thrown in, and you’re like, “Okay, I’ve been preparing for this,’” he said.

However, even with the improvements he made in the offseason and his steady week-to-week performance, Rochell still is not safe when it comes time to look at game footage with his position group — but he said he is also okay with that.

20140913, 2014-2015, 20140913, by Emily McConville, Football, Lucas Oil Stadium, Purdue, Shamrock Series, Win 30-14-2Emily McConville | The Observer
“It’s the same for every college athlete — even when you think you play well, you come in, and you get blasted in film and all that stuff,” Rochell said. “So, I don’t know. I’m just taking it game-by-game and just trying to focus on the next opponent and trying to get better. I think I played a decent game, but at the end of the day, there’s still a lot of stuff that needs to be worked on, so that’s the main thing.”

Though he came in as a reserve in all of his 11 games freshman year, Rochell has earned a start in every game in 2014 so far and will be primed to take more snaps against a potent Syracuse rushing attack Saturday.

“I will say they’re definitely good, and they’re all, across the board, really good athletes, really good players,” Rochell said of Syracuse. “Their o-line’s really athletic. I mean, they’re all really good.”

The Irish defense, which has given up only 99 rushing yards per game on average this season, will prepare for the face of the Orange ground game, senior quarterback Terrel Hunt. The 6-foot-3, 234-pound signal caller averages 91 rushing yards per game.

“He’s huge,” Rochell said of Hunt. “He’s athletic. We’re going to worry about keeping him contained and doing all that and really generic defensive-end type things and defensive-line type things. He’s a big, athletic guy, and we’re going to have to play to that and understand that as the game goes on.”

Rochell said he and his teammates aren’t backing down from the challenge of stopping Hunt and senior running backs Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore, who average 83.7 and 64.3 yards on the ground per game, respectively.

“It’s always fun playing a really good running team, especially as a d-lineman,” he said. “It’s what we live for, getting in the trenches and playing hard.”

At the same time, the Notre Dame defensive line has surpassed many preseason expectations for a group that lost key players from last season in Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt.

“There was a lot of talk … not necessarily negative stuff, but people just didn’t really know,” Rochell said. “I remember I read some stuff where people were just like, it was just question marks. But it’s cool, winning games and obviously our defense playing well — we had a shutout [against Michigan]. It’s cool looking back and saying, ‘Okay, we’re doing well.’

“But there’s a lot to work on, and there’s a lot of developing, and our d-line’s at the point now where we’re still like, ‘Okay, we have a long way to go to become the best d-line we can possibly be.’ It’s good, and it’s cool seeing that, and also at the same point, we have to get a lot better.”

As for Rochell himself, he said his highlight has been helping his team to a 3-0 record —appreciating each snap he takes, no matter how sore he is the next day.

“I’m just excited to be out there and be playing,” he said. “It’s just been fun being more of a productive member of the team. Last year, I wasn’t very productive, and it was kind of annoying and frustrating. But now, being more productive, you feel like you’re contributing to the win, and when you feel like you are winning, you’re like, ‘Okay, that was nice. I enjoyed that.’”

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