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Unbelief and the power of Rocket

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The Notre Dame pep rally has died a slow death, losing the sheer electricity of the Lou Holtz days back when an over-capacity crowd turned the JACC’s Friday night pep rallies into one of the toughest tickets on campus. In it’s current iteration on the Irish Green, it’s really a glorified picnic, “a family friendly environment for fans to hang out, enjoy multiple food and drink vendors, and take in both live music and Notre Dame-oriented entertainment.”

(Not my description, that’s straight from Notre Dame’s official website.)

But last Friday night, Rocket Ismail was the guest at the pep rally. And when Rocket addresses the team and the crowd, you can’t help but feel the electricity in the air. Whether it was his stirring address before last year’s game against USC (“Don’t Flinch!”) or last Friday night, you wonder what it’d have been like if modern day Rocket got up and addressed Notre Dame Rocket and his teammates. I can only guess that it would’ve blown the roof off the JACC center, with thousands of students ready to runs through the walls of Notre Dame Stadium.

As usual, Rocket was excellent, whipping a crowd that was likely there for nothing more than a few  beers and some forced pageantry into a frenzy. More importantly, he hit on a key issue that’s plaguing the fans of “Irish Nation.” (Rocket’s word choice, not mine.)

Thanks to WNDU-TV in South Bend who shot the video, here’s Rocket’s speech in it’s entirety:

If you’ve been a Notre Dame fan for any length of time, it’s not hard to know what Rocket is talking about. That “not again” feeling, I’ve seen it typed thousands of times in live-blog comments or emails shot my way throughout a season. Ismail did even one better, identifying the problem that’s been plaguing Notre Dame football since the Davie era.

“There’s a thief in the house. And he’s been hanging out in our house for far too long,” Ismail said. “And we’ve identifed who this thief is. Listen… His name is Unbelief.

“I’ve run into him a couple of times. And when I run into him, he’ll be dressed just like he belongs in the Irish family. He’ll have the hat on, he’ll have a big ND on his shirt. Sometimes, he’ll even have a letterman’s jacket on. But this is how you identify him.

“He’s the person that very subtly and seductively will say something like, “Eh — maybe next year.” He’s say something like, he’ll stand and in one voice he’ll cheer and then when the road gets a little rocky, when the challenge seems to be able to surpass what his expectations are, he’ll say this. ‘Here we go again…’

“I have come to warn you, Unbelief. You don’t belong in our house. You do not belong in our house. And I have come to equipt you, the true Irish nation, I have come to empower you, the true Irish nation.

“Unbelief is going to be at the party, unbelief is going to be at the restaurant, unbelief might even try to sneak up in the hotel, unbelief might even try to sneak up in your dreams. You tell that son of a savage, get the hell out of my room. If Unbelief tries to show up at the meeting tomorrow, when you’re at the middle of the field, if Unbelief tries to show up in the huddle, you tell him, ‘To the back, Son.’ I ain’t got time for you. Don’t let him come in. Don’t let him come in. Do not let Him come in.”

Rocket’s willingness to point the finger at the very fans that wear the blue and gold is another example of an influential Irish member questioning the fanbase that supports Notre Dame. While it isn’t hard to understand why that “not again” feeling often comes to a quick boil, it seems as if that ‘sky is falling’ mentality has invaded the psyche of a football team that hasn’t been a part of 15 years of struggles, but merely a rocky window that included a coaching transition and a wholesale system change.

While introspection might eventually solve what’s ailing the Irish, Rocket’s speech on Friday night reminds everybody of two things:

1) The psyche of a college athlete is a fragile thing and 2) Rocket Ismail is a helluva public speaker.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
Getty
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.