After 84 meetings in the last 86 years there isn’t room for many first-time occurrences in the Notre Dame-USC rivalry. There’s a chance that junior Amir Carlisle could prove to be an exception on Saturday.
Thirty of Amir Carlisle's 38 carries this season came in the team's first three games of the year.
Carlisle played in Notre Dame Stadium two years ago wearing a Trojan uniform on USC's kick return unit. He transferred to South Bend the following season and spent a year nursing an ankle injury before breaking into the Irish lineup this fall. The history is a little foggy, but there’s a possibility that the junior running back will become the first player to log official playing time for both sides in what is commonly billed as the country’s oldest cross-sectional rivalry.
In three previous cases players spent time on both rosters during their college careers. Ted Tannehill and Harry Welch both moved from South Bend to Southern California during the late 1940 and early 1950s when young men returning from the war flooded college football with transfers.
Wide receiver Speedy Hart played in Notre Dame’s 1977 win over USC known as the “green jersey game.” He transferred to USC the following year and logged 11 minutes of playing time as a fifth-year senior for the Trojans in 1980. But according to BGI historian Lou Somogyi, it’s not clear if any of that time came against the Irish.
Carlisle isn’t worried about setting any historical precedent this weekend, but he did admit he was looking forward to lining up across from his old teammates.
“I’m not gonna lie, yeah, there’s an excitement for me personally to be able to face my former team,” he said Wednesday night. “I’m not going to let that excitement [restrict] me from my focus on the game itself. I’m going to approach this game like any other game, but there’s a little extra there.”
USC and Notre Dame both courted the speedy back from northern California in the recruiting process. He chose the Trojans at the time to remain close to his home. When his father left his job as a strength coach with the San Francisco 49ers for a similar position at Purdue, Carlisle decided to follow the family to the Midwest.
After an injury-riddled 12 months on campus, Carlisle looked to be on his way to nailing down a top spot among the Irish running backs in September. He was the team’s leading rusher after three games, but fumbled toward the end of a close win over Purdue in mid-September. He’s carried only eight times in the three games since then.
“He started off really well, and then we just had some other guys that have played well,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “…But having said that, I think he was at USC. I think you can see he's pretty focused this week. My guess is he's going to be excited about the opportunity to play against USC. So we'll be keenly aware of his want to play very well against USC.”
Carlisle said he remains friendly with several of the USC players that he met during his semester on campus there. He stays in touch with standout wide receiver Marqise Lee, fullback Soma Vainuku and wide receiver George Farmer among others. That communication has stopped at least temporarily for the past week.
“I am focusing on the work we have to do here,” he said. “Off the field it’s fun and games, those are my guys, but on the field it’s all business and this week is a business week. You have to get ready for this game.”