Everett: Notre Dame’s win and perfect season complete a story of redemption
Joe Everett | Sunday, November 25, 2018
The 2018 Notre Dame football team is undefeated. But don’t compare it to that fabled 2012 team.
Instead, compare it to that disappointing team of 2016.
More specifically, how the Irish left the Coliseum in 2016 as compared to how they left it Saturday night.
Two years ago, the Irish had just been beaten 45-27 by the Trojans, capping off an utterly miserable and disappointing 4-8 season that left the majority of Notre Dame’s fan base clamoring for head coach Brian Kelly to be fired.
However, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick refused to listen to the outside noise. Why? He saw beyond the wins and losses. Day-to-day, he saw a steadily improving team culture that was unfortunately unable to translate that camaraderie into success on the field.
Which is why, for this 2018 Notre Dame football team (12-0), this season (and this game) is ultimately one of redemption.
It’s not just the sheer record of the team that’s been redeemed, but also the overall culture of the program and the individuals that comprise it.
Seniors Te’von Coney and Dexter Williams were arrested in August 2016. Now, they’re the engines to the defense and offense, respectively.
Senior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery stomped on a guy’s head during the end of the 2016 USC game and faced disciplinary action for it. But this Saturday night he came up with a huge sack on third down to get the Trojans (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12) off the field.
Even senior safety Nicco Fertitta, who was ejected from that same USC game for targeting, put in the work throughout the past two years and earned the honor of being an honorary captain Saturday night.
The Irish have been working through the redemption process for two years now, and the fruits of their labor are now evident.
“It’s that 24-month cycle,” Swarbrick said postgame. “Leaving this locker room [two years ago] and meeting with the coaches afterwards, everybody was saying ‘we’re going to get this fixed’, and two years later it feels pretty good.”
In fact, Notre Dame’s ability to diagnose and fix what had been plaguing it in 2016 is nothing short of outstanding. After suffering one of the worst regular seasons in Notre Dame’s history, Kelly’s ability to handle adversity and overcome it over these past two years has been exemplary.
Much like how the team needed to attack adversity Saturday night against the Trojans. In fact, if the 24-17 Irish win can be seen as a microcosm of the past three years of Notre Dame football, the first third of the game brought back images of 2016. Notre Dame looked overmatched and uninspired, unable to find answers.
But just like they did after 2016, the Irish made adjustments. Almost every one of the seven coaches hired by Kelly and Swarbrick after the 2016 debacle played a part in adjusting to USC. Offensive coordinator Chip Long found a way to run the ball and counter USC’s constant blitzes. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea made adjustments in coverage and started taking away the easy throws. The work of strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis, who earned the game ball, became more and more evident as the game went on. The Irish wore down their opponent again, in large part because of the adjustments made by the men who were part of the larger program adjustment after 2016. This group is resilient, no doubt about it.
As a writer I can analyze these parallels and storylines all I want, but as a fan and student I’m simply extremely proud of this team and what it has accomplished this season. They put the work in. They earned this. From talking to the team throughout the entire season, there is a love and a brotherhood amongst this team that makes it extremely special, as well as a fervent desire to be great. This perfect season is a result of everyone on the team going beyond themselves in pursuit of something greater.
It resulted from those early-morning weight room lift sessions back in January.
It resulted from guys taking the time to build personal relationships, especially with the new freshman, acclimating and weaving them into the fabric and culture of the team.
It resulted from a grueling summer of workouts and camp as players sacrificed personal time with family for the progress of the team.
It resulted from cultivating a priority of team success over individual success, especially seen through the demeanor of senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush.
It resulted from guys taking it week to week throughout the season and toughing it out through a grueling schedule. Drue Tranquill comes in hours before morning practice each day to get treatment for his ankle and prepare for the upcoming Saturday. Why? Because he believes in the mission and understands what this is all about: teammates and “brothers” getting to play for one another and playing for Notre Dame.
So at the end of this column, I’d just like to thank the players, coaches and everyone involved for everything they’ve put into this mission. Notre Dame is 22-3 since 2016. It’s 12-0 this season, proving to everyone that redemption stems from resiliency and hard work. What a team, and what a ride its been.
And yet, this story hasn’t ended. There are still a couple chapters left to write.