Catching up with… Terrail Lambert


Few Notre Dame fans will forget the unbelievable comeback victory the Irish snatched away from the Michigan State Spartans in 2006. (If you want a reminder, check out this link.) While the offensive heroics were supplied by Brady Quinn, Rhema McKnight, John Carlson and Jeff Samardzija, the key defensive plays were supplied by cornerback Terrail Lambert, whose touchdown and interception return put the Irish ahead in the final two minutes, and whose acrobatic interception with 40 seconds left in the game put the nail in the Spartan’s coffin.

Terrail turned in a stellar career at Notre Dame, and is hoping to continue his football career in the NFL this season, waiting by the phone and staying in shape after being one of the last cuts by the San Francisco 49ers. Terrail was kind enough to trade messages and emails with me until we could find a time to talk late last night. He had plenty of insight on the Irish, playing Michigan State, and what the guys need to do to rebound from last week’s tough loss.

On getting past a difficult loss:

It’s one of the things that you learn when you develop into a mature football player, and it’s just a part of the process of becoming a college football player. And I can say that when we found ourselves in that position, we’d say, ‘Okay, let’s identify what we did wrong or what got us in those situations and how can we avoid them,’ and two, ‘What’s at stake with this next game?’

Every game that we approach we always did our best to approach each game as a one game entity. That game, that week, is our national championship game. That’s the mindset we tried to develop, and that’s one of the building blocks that they’re developing right now. It’s still a relatively young team. And looking at it from a positive standpoint, it’s a great opportunity to show the maturity of the team, and I think they’ll follow through with it.

On the transition between Willingham and Weis:

It was really about learning to deal with a whole other personality type. Coach Weis is perceived to have a so called “New Jersey” attitude and mentality, and he brought a lot of that to the team and saw it rub off on a lot of the team, myself included. It was somewhat of a new philosophy that you just bought into it. It took a while for it to happen, but you know — I can definitely say that, especially looking in hindsight, looking at the program, it’s something that’s definitely happening. All the guys are buying in.

On his infamous cousin Lorenzo Booker, and his influence on choosing Notre Dame:

He was definitely one of the guys I really listened to in terms of being able to possess the capacity to make the decision that I had to make for myself. It’s a big step, it’s another chapter in a young man’s life, and he gave me real sound advice in that regard.

One of the things he told me was that you’re making the decision and it’s the one time in your life that you want to be as selfish as you possibly can. Because when you’re there for those 4 or 5 years at that institution of learning playing college ball, it’s going to be you there, not anybody else in your family or your circle of friends or peers. At the very least, if you end up not liking it, you can hang your hat on knowing that you made your own decision.

I chose Notre Dame just because I always saw myself as a kid from the hood who got good grades and could play ball, and I wanted to be a part of something special. And I got that at Notre Dame.

On his epic Michigan State game:

Believe it or not, I wouldn’t call it the highlight of my career, but more like my coming of age. I had come off a subpar game the previous week in the Michigan game giving up two touchdowns, but that week and the week following Michigan State, I remember going back to my room and learning the lesson that the most important thing on defense is the next play.

Just accepting the fact that when they throw the ball your way, someone is going to come down with it, and they’re going to strike up the band one way or the other, so it might as well be you with the ball.

On what the Michigan State rivalry means to ND:

The first thing you know when you’re playing Michigan State is that they’re coming in with the mindset that they’re the underdogs and they’re the second class citizens and they’re trying to prove something. That’s their mentality, their identity, and they love to do that through their play on the field, and use that attitude of a blue-collar tough guy. And they are, I’ll give them that respect.

It’s a game you need to prepare your mind for. They’re coming in with that attitude. There’s going to be a lot of trash talking, maybe even a couple cheap shots, and it’s going to get nasty, bottom line.

On the change to life in the NFL and his goals for after the NFL:

The biggest thing I noticed in the NFL is that the game is simpler in the standpoint that everybody is doing the same thing, but it all boils down to the execution. Execution is just so much more important at that level. The game is so cerebral. The physical aspects are different, and the speed is faster, but it’s not as dramatic as people make it out to be.

After football, I’ll pursue a career in cinematography. Hopefully a life behind the camera. It’s a niche I developed, I took classes in it, and I got first hand experience behind the film cameras that people in the mainstream film industry actually use. I learned how to work with Final Cut Pro, use all sorts of industry software, and design three-dimensional sets using architectural software, as well as getting behind the camera, doing some grip work, and learning about lighting.

On picking Notre Dame and what makes it such a special place:

The passion is one of the things that makes Notre Dame so special. It’s the
fact that you can go across to other college campuses across the
nation, it’s been a trend for decades now where you really don’t want
to say it but you feel it as an athlete that you’re being alienated
away from the students because you’re a football player or a basketball
player, but that just wasn’t the case at Notre Dame.

Because the students… they identified with you, they sympathized with
you. If there’s a loss on Notre Dame’s campus, everybody’s having a bad
day. And if there’s a win on campus, regardless of sport, but
especially football, everybody’s going to have a good day. Teachers,
students, all the faculty members across the board, and I think that’s
because everybody identifies with each other.

A special thanks to Terrail for making time for Inside the Irish. Here’s wishing him good luck on getting back onto the field. 


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.


Irish suffer first recruiting defection with Donovan Jeter


After five losses, Notre Dame suffered their first consequence of a poor season in recruiting. Donovan Jeter, a four-star defensive lineman, has stepped away from his verbal commitment.

Jeter made the news public on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to send Irish fans into a tailspin.

The sky isn’t quite falling. Jeter called the Irish his top school, likely just getting ahead of the news that he’ll start taking official visits to other schools, something Notre Dame’s recruiting staff has worked well to slow down the past few cycles. Also helping the Irish’s cause is his proximity and connection to fellow Western Pennsylvania prospects David Adams, Kurt Hinish and Josh Lugg.

Still, after making it through last recruiting cycle without a defection, finding a way to win back Jeter is priority No. 1, a versatile defensive lineman who had an elite offer list and picked Notre Dame after basically dismissing them over the summer. The Irish have done it before, getting Stephon Tuitt back in the fold after Georgia Tech sold him on staying home. They won a battle with current defensive coordinator Greg Hudson when he was at Florida State for Aaron Lynch, though Lynch only lasted a season in South Bend.

Usually a decommitment—especially this time of year—isn’t ground for a news story. But as all eyes focus on Brian Kelly and his grasp on the Irish program, this serves as ammo for those looking for cracks in the foundation.


Jeter posted a Tweet that essentially confirmed my speculation. And also should serve as a reminder—DO. NOT. TWEET. AT. RECRUITS.