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irish insider

Bilal stepping into leadership role among linebackers

| Friday, September 20, 2019

Drue Tranquill’s 235-pound shadow is a hard one to fill. But returning for his fifth and final season, graduate student linebacker Asmar Bilal is trying his best.

“I just wanted to come back and win a national championship,” Bilal said. “That was my plan. Our mission here is to graduate our players and win the national championship. Considering I graduated already, that took the academic load off. I am able to focus more on football.”

Growing into his role on the line with age, Bilal now sees himself not only as a leader on the field, but off it as well.

“I think inevitably just being an older guy in the group, you take on that leadership role. I think a lot of guys look up to me due to my experience compared to some of the other guys. I think I have a good presence in the group,” he said.

That role is further reinforced by the teams’ young energy.

“We’re good, but we’re young. All the linebackers are capable. I feel good about it — we’re growing,” Bilal said. “We’re growing each and every week.”

Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish graduate student linebacker Asmar Bilal avoids a block during Notre Dame’s 66-14 win over New Mexico Sep. 14.

Despite being such a leader, Bilal still has his own mentor in the man he’s replaced — Tranquill himself, who now suits up for the Los Angeles Chargers.

“I spoke to Drew … right before he played against Detroit. We keep in touch, we’ve been talking [about] every week,” Bilal said. “He’s been giving me different advice on my game, on my technique and stuff like that. Nothing really scheme-wise, but he just watches the game and just critiques me. He’s a really good friend of mine.”

Having recorded 50 total tackles in the 2018 season, Bilal had a breakout season as a senior, playing in all 13 games and starting in 10 after spending two years as a reserve and his freshman season on the scout team. He’s continued that trajectory this season, having recorded 12 total tackles, including a team-leading 10 unassisted tackles — the most of any linemen.

Bilal’s managed to accomplish the feat in spite of a positional change, moving from middle linebacker to outside linebacker in order to accommodate the rise of junior Drew White, who’s emerged as a starter on the inside.

“It was just getting me into the best position possible for the team,” Bilal said. “I started out the spring as a Mike and then Drew stepped into that position so they moved me into Buck. We’ve been seeing where things filled out for the team to put us in the best position. It’s always challenging at the beginning, learning a new position, but from my experience from Rover to Mike and now to Buck, I feel like I’ve got a better understanding of the game, conceptually.”

Bilal wasted no time making that understanding known against New Mexico, recording a team-high eight tackles — double that of the second highest guys. Of those eight, seven were solo and two were for loss.

“Yeah [last Saturday], I felt free. I felt comfortable. I mean, really, we just relied on the preparation — we had a great few weeks of preparation and we executed,” he said.

Bilal says he and his teammates will look to carry that preparation forward into this week’s matchup against No. 3 Georgia — a win which will be no small task.

Led by veteran quarterback Jake Fromm and Heisman watch-list candidate D’Andre Swift, the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 148-23 across the first three weeks, routing Vanderbilt, Murray State and Arkansas State without a second glance.

With 565.3 total yards of offense per game, Georgia has been rolling on the ground and in the air, despite having lost its top five receivers at the end of the 2018 season. But Bilal says he and his teammates haven’t spent time dwelling on the elite names they’ll face Saturday.

“Our preparation isn’t going to deviate or change just for individual players,” he said. “We’re just going to focus on the game plan.”

But for all the hype surrounding the matchup, Bilal says it’s just another business trip.

“I try to stay away from the noise,” Bilal said. “It’s just like any other faceless, nameless opponent. We’re just preparing like any other game at this point. … Our goal is to win a national championship. That’s our business — to win this. We’re playing to go out to that end.”

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