Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly discussed a variety of topics with media members Wednesday, including what will be a special family reunion Saturday when Air Force comes to town.
Freshman defensive end Troy Niklas will face off against his brother, Austin, who is a junior reserve linebacker for the Falcons.
“I remember in the recruiting process pushing hard that, ‘Hey, come to Notre Dame; we play Air Force next year and you’ll get a chance to play against your brother,’” Kelly said. “It’s always great when brothers get an opportunity to compete. I know it will be a great afternoon for the family because they are going to go home winners.”
Kelly also said he’s still intent on having a roster full of lovers — guys who aren’t faking their passion for the game, that is. Despite what most would believe, not all players have the lust for football that helps get through the daily grind. Not even at Notre Dame.
In his experience with the Irish and at other coaching stops, Kelly said some are “playing for a lot of other reasons.”
“Sometimes they think they love to play, but you know when someone loves to play,” Kelly said. “When it’s hot and you’re tired and you’ve got to push through it, or things are going your way, you keep going out there. I can tell when somebody loves what they’re doing, when they’re passionate about it. When it’s just a job to you guys, I can tell it and you can tell it. When it’s more than just a job and it’s something you love, it’s the same thing about playing the game.”
Kelly went on to list a number of players who won’t be playing — not for a lack of desire, but because of injuries — and one the Irish will get back for Air Force:
• Sophomore linebacker Danny Spond, a backup at the Dog position, has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
“He’s good, he’s cleared and he’ll be on all our run teams,” Kelly said.
• Sophomore wide receiver Daniel Smith has missed the past three weeks with a pulled hamstring.
“He’s making great progress,” Kelly said. “He was out there today, a bit limited, he’s not full [go], but he’s got individual work done and he’s doing [skeleton drills] and things like that. I would say after the bye week he’s going to be full-go.”
• Sophomore offensive tackle Tate Nichols, who has yet to play a game for Notre Dame, is done for the year after undergoing shoulder surgery last Friday.
“We didn’t want to wait any longer on that shoulder,” Kelly said. “We probably could have continued to get by with a harness, but we want him full-go for spring ball because he’ll be vying for a starting position. So we decided to do the surgery.
• Freshman inside linebacker Anthony Rabasa hasn’t seen action this season and will have to wait until 2011 to make his debut with a similar malady.
“He’s practicing right now, but we want to get these guys 100 percent for spring ball,” Kelly explained. “They both had subluxing shoulders that were coming in and out. We were able to shoulder-harness them, they were able to practice effectively for us, but we don’t want them to be held back in the spring because they’re going to obviously be good players for us. Oct. 1 was kind of the deadline [for those decisions]. Rabasa has not had [surgery] done yet but he’ll have it done here in the next few days.”
• Freshman running back Cam Roberson blew out his knee during spring practice and is currently in the rehabilitation process.
“Making progress,” Kelly added. “Terrible knee injury. Still working at it.”
Freshman wideout DaVaris Daniels hasn’t yet played and Kelly has to make a decision soon as to whether or not the talented player from Vernon Hills, Ill., will redshirt.
“We’re getting close to that time,” Kelly said. “I’ve wanted to play him. I want to get him in there. Sometimes I get caught up in doing some other things, but I want to get him in the game. That thought is still out there until further notice. There are conversations that take place and those conversations require me to sign off on him. I wasn’t able to sign off on him yet.”
Because of an injury to senior defensive end Ethan Johnson early against Purdue, which was compounded by freshman Stephon Tuitt being left back in South Bend for missing class, sophomore Kona Schwenke was forced into action for the first time this fall. Kelly’s hope was to preserve a year of eligibility.
“It was unfortunate, but he had to play,” Kelly said. “Ethan went down on the first series, we were shorthanded without Tuitt being there and he had to play. That’s an unfortunate situation, but we’re there to win games first and foremost. He’ll continue to be in that role.
Tuitt has, by Kelly’s account, learned his lesson.
“I’m really pleased with him,” Kelly said. “I just like the way he handled himself. He apologized to the team for letting them down, took full responsibility for his actions and talked to his mom. They all as a family understand why he’s here and that’s to get a degree.”
The return of Chris Badger, a freshman safety who left Notre Dame last September for a two-year Mormon mission, is apparently up in the air. Badger is in the second year of teaching in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He was expected to be available for the Irish at the start of the 2012 season.
“We’re not really sure,” Kelly said. “We’re going to take the bye week to kind of figure that one out. I haven’t had any contact and we’re really going to have to sit down and figure out what that situation is.”
Freshman walk-on Joe Schmidt (ILB) keeps popping up on the travel roster and might do more than that soon.
“He’s a good player, tough, physical, got a great sense for the ball,” Kelly said excitedly. “He’s just in a tough position. But he’s going to play for us. That guy’s going to be on the field. He’s a football player.”