Despite his promises to avoid the typical opening day clichés, Irish head coach Brian Kelly started the 2012 football season by proclaiming it to be a new year with an entirely new dynamic in the Notre Dame locker room. Kelly’s team has plenty of fresh faces who, according to the coach, are not planning on waiting in line for their turn to play.
Sophomore Amir Carlisle is one of several first-year players in South Bend hoping to contribute this season.
The incoming freshman class arrived in South Bend more than six weeks ago and has been reportedly hard at work ever since. Kelly said they took a full course load along with their football workouts to try to prepare the group for the rigors of a college football season. Most of the coaching staff won’t get their first on-the-field look at the freshmen until Saturday morning, but they apparently made a strong statement this summer in the weight room.
“I think what [strength and conditioning coach Paul] Longo impressed upon me was that when the freshman class came here there was a burning desire for that group to want to contribute right away. All of them,” Kelly said. “His characterization of his class is they’re ready to play. Some physically, some mentally it’s going to happen quicker, but as a group the mindset was to come in and play right away.”
As is typical when making the leap from high school to college, the skill position players had a bit of a head start this year. Wide receivers and defensive backs don’t need to develop the same level of strength before they are ready to take the field that offensive line need in order to be effective.
Kelly avoided answering questions about any specific players, but said he had a feel for what to expect from receivers like Justin Ferguson, Chris Brown and Davonte Neal. He also mentioned that with junior safety Austin Collinsworth on the sidelines with a shoulder injury until at least late October, there is room for several new guys to make an impression in the secondary this month. The Irish have four incoming freshman at safety along with Chris Badger, who returns for his first season after a two-year mission in Ecuador. KeiVarae Rusell, another freshman, also joins the secondary as the sixth scholarship cornerback to fill out that position group.
Another new face refusing to be overlooked this summer is sophomore running back Amir Carlisle. The USC transfer ran for 118 yards on 19 carries as a freshman in Los Angeles. He broke his ankle prior to spring football, so he too will be making his debut for Notre Dame on Saturday. Carlisle will have to try to whittle himself a place in a crowded Irish backfield this year, but Kelly said the group of more established runners in front of him hasn’t scared Carlisle away.
“He’s not discouraged one bit that he’s going to come in and be the guy,” Kelly said. “You like that kind of confidence. He has that confidence in his ability and, again, he’s got a great burst.”
Carlisle and Co. will get their first change to start competing Saturday morning when the Irish officially open training camp at 10 a.m.