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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.

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State
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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.