tj-jones

Weekend notes: Jones, Tuck, and summer visits

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With students trickling back to South Bend to begin “voluntary” summer workouts and the summer semester, we are slowly on our way out of the doldrums as we crawl towards the 2012 football season.

We’ll continue profiling the freshman that are set to enroll in summer school. We’ll take a closer look at the sophomores who saved a year of eligibility last season. As we have the past two years, we’ll run down the Top 25 players on the Irish roster, and I’m slowly working my way through the Irish’s 2012 opponents, getting myself up to speed on the 12 teams that look to spoil the Irish’s BCS hopes.

A friendly reminder: While it’s just me on this side of the keyboard, this is a communal exercise. If there’s anything you’d like to see more of, feel free to reach out. You can find me on Twitter, lurking around in the comments below, or shoot me an email through the site.

Anyway, on to a few interesting links to get you through the weekend.

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Junior wide receiver TJ Jones was home in Atlanta and made an appearance on 790 The Zone sports radio. It was an interesting segment that gave some more insight into Jones, who is going to be looked upon to do some big things for the Irish this season after battling through adversity last season after the shocking loss of his father Andre at the far too young age of 42.

Jones sounded polished and the perfect representative of Notre Dame during his interview, where he talked a bit about his recruitment to Notre Dame and his relationship with Rocket Ismail.

“He’s my Godfather,” Jones said of Rocket. “I call him for advice, talk to him about anything, from life, to football, to his family and seeing how they’re doing.”

Jones also talked about his decision to come to Notre Dame, which hinged on the fact that Stanford wouldn’t let Jones early enroll.

“As things came closer to the end of that first semester of my senior season, graduating early really became important to me and I realized the benefits I’d gain from it,” Jones said. “That’s when I thought I should start looking at other places than Stanford and Notre Dame was another place with a degree like Stanford. Coach Weis came through with his other coaches and recruited me. Having my dad play there and getting to play early, really opened my eyes to Notre Dame.”

(Irish fans take note: There’s a Top 25 program that just got done playing in a BCS game that doesn’t allow recruits to early enroll, something Notre Dame started under Charlie Weis.)

Jones also was asked about the shocking loss of his father last June, and how it affected his family.

“You just learn to lean on the people who love you,” Jones said. “Friends, teammates, coaches if you’re close to them. For me being the oldest, who was still at home it was just me being the rock at that point. I couldn’t show weakness because I had four younger siblings and my mother who needed someone to be the rock for the family.”

With the Irish looking for someone to fill the very large shoes of Michael Floyd, Jones’ year of maturing after a family-shattering ordeal might help him. The only receiver with significant returning playing time, Jones should be poised to make a big leap forward this season.

***

Speaking of great representatives of Notre Dame football, New York Giant Justin Tuck, the All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl winning defensive lineman, can add children’s author to his resume. (I imagine this will be just above Subway pitchman.)

The New York Times has more on Tuck’s creative — and philanthropic — endeavors:

Tuck, who has been the leader of the Giants’ defense for the past five seasons, is hardly the only athlete to write a children’s book. In New York alone, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson are children’s authors, and Tuck’s former teammate Tiki Barber published several titles with his twin, Ronde.

What separates Tuck, however, is the motivation behind the project; his commitment to getting children to read has become more than just the focus of his charity, RUSH for Literacy. It has also been the bedrock for Tuck and his wife, Lauran, as they get used to being parents.

“I like to think we’re pretty amazing parents,” Tuck said, laughing, “but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard sometimes. There are lots of decisions to talk about and issues to figure out. But we know that reading is where it all starts. We know that for sure.”

Tuck’s charity — Read, Understand, Succeed, and Hope for Literacy, has raised more than $1 million and donated more than 45,000 books to children in New York, New Jersey, and central Alabama, where Tuck grew up. Tuck’s charity also holds a celebrity billiards tournament.

Tuck was last in the news in South Bend thanks to a Tweet from Alice Lynch, asking the star defensive end to talk some sense into her son. While the conversation between now-former Irish defensive ends didn’t change any hearts, Tuck has become one of the best ambassadors in the NFL, and a proud alumnus of Notre Dame. Hopefully Lynch can at least glean some of that from Tuck.

***

To switch topics to the never-ending story of recruiting, IrishSportsDaily.com has a great free article on the recruits most likely to pull the trigger on a commitment next. With several high profile recruits visiting campus in the next few weeks, there could be some more good news coming for Irish fans before the calendar turns again.

Brian Smith of ISD runs through a pretty prolific lists of recruits — defensive lineman Isaac Rochell, linebacker Alex Anzalone, Stanford commit Doug Randolph, uber-recruit Jaylon Smith, defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko, linebacker Danny Mattingly, defensive end Tashawn Bower, and cornerback Cole Luke, who will be on campus with his high school coach, former Irish quarterback Steve Belles next week.

Getting prospects on campus during the summer and before their official visits is a huge step towards getting a recruit committed. Lots of credit should go to the coaching staff for getting these highly touted recruits to campus before the season.

Report: Justin Brent to transfer

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Justin Brent has not seen the playing field since Notre Dame faced LSU in the Music City Bowl back in December of 2014. That now looks like it will be the last time Irish fans see him in a Notre Dame uniform, as well. Reports indicate the rising senior running back will transfer.

Irish 247’s Tom Loy broke the news, soon confirmed by Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson.

A consensus top-100 pick out of Indianapolis (Ind.) Speedway High School, Brent arrived in South Bend with high expectations, but will depart without an official statistic aside from snaps in nine games his freshman season. He recorded no catches, carries or tackles.

 

Thanks Keith, Now Dear Readers…

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 19: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes a hand off from DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 19, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Virginia Tech defeated Notre Dame 34-31.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Dear “Inside the Irish” fans, “Inside the Irish” foes and, of course, my parents –
Dear curious purveyors, my stand-alone predecessor and Tim Raines –
Mostly, dear Notre Dame fans, Notre Dame spectators and college students enjoying any and all hallowed traditions –

Yes, unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, Keith tossed me the keys to this 1971 Volkswagen Beetle known as NBC Sports’ “Inside the Irish” blog. Don’t worry, I know how to drive stick shift.

If I were feeling corny, I would tell you I first reported on Notre Dame football in the fall of 1996, shouting out the garage window to my father as Allen Rossum returned Purdue’s opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. If we are ignoring sentimental childhood stories, however, then it would be more accurate to call 2009’s home-opener against Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada my beginning on the beat.

Over the last few days I reached out to a few of you readers whom I know, asking why you enjoyed Keith Arnold’s coverage. So as to keep them honest, I neglected to tell them I would be stepping into this spotlight today.

Repeatedly, I heard buzz words such as readable, reasonable and realistic. Those will be my goals, as well. My predecessor at The Observer no longer dabbles in journalism, but I still trust his view on most things. His response strikes me as an admirable objective.

“We are smart, informed sports fans with an irrational passion for ND football, and appreciate writers who share those traits but are professional enough to step back from the irrationality and put things in perspective… We like a realistic take, not a knee-jerk reaction.”

On that note, you will not see me give a recruiting update with my every breath. You will also not see me dispense as much cinema advice as Keith did. I am simply not the film-nik he is, though I am listening to the “La La Land” soundtrack as I write this. You will find jazz increases your words per minute rate.

I will often speak of gambling terms, but not to encourage the vice. Rather, I find those odds to be a thought-provoking and informing means of evaluating things. Today, various books strongly expected President Trump’s inauguration speech to last longer than 15 minutes. Thus, I figured it would last longer than 15, but not by all that much since such was the over/under mark set. I could step away from the computer and watch it without losing too much of my day. It lasted 16:18.

I will try to be conversational, especially in these Friday letters/news-dumps/updates/recaps, should they become a recurring piece.

I intend to keep many, but not all, of Keith’s recurring features, as daunting as many of them seem. If I am to make this place my own, some will have to change. It’s okay, we’ll get through that together.

So ask questions, state your wonderings and pitch story ideas. This very format was a seed watered by one of you early this morning. Admittedly, prior to suggesting this he referred to me in terms I refuse to post publicly, but old drinking buddies have earned that right.

It’s late Friday afternoon. Grab a drink, and don’t you dare leave it unfinished.

– Douglas.

And in that corner… Introducing Douglas Farmer

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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It’s time to turn over the keys. On a day where our great nation makes a peaceful transition, so does our humble blog.

I’d love to say I was smart enough to time my departure for the same day as inauguration, but as they say, it’s better to be lucky than good. And I was lucky to get the gig, and happy to turn it over to someone who I believe is a better-than-good writer: Douglas Farmer.

Douglas was Editor-in-Chief of The Observer when he was a student at Notre Dame. He’s worked for old media—earning a byline at the Los Angeles Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s worked the ND beat, not just at the school paper, but at Blue & Gold. And now, I’m very happy to say, he’s taking over Inside the Irish, a transition that I think will go wonderfully.

To give you an idea of who Douglas is, I milked one last column gave him the And in this Corner treatment.

Hope you enjoy. And, one last request—Be Nice.

 

Douglas, you graduated from Notre Dame in 2012, and last covered the Irish on a day-to-day basis in the 2014 season. What has you excited to come back to the beat?

Douglas Farmer: Given Notre Dame’s past season, I would say I am most excited to take an in-depth look at how the Irish respond — and perhaps rebound — in 2017. It has been awhile (nearly a decade, more accurately) since Notre Dame has needed to do that, so it is one area of football there is not much institutional knowledge to rely upon.

Aside from that, the general engagement with a fan base so devotedly-interested in its topic is always something to look forward to. Even during a 4-8 season, that fan base does not waver in its curiosity and thirst for information.

 

A nice perk is also getting paid for the addiction that is Notre Dame Football, no?

DF: I prefer to subscribe to Hurricane Carter’s opinion on addictions: Do not be addicted to anything “they” can take away from you.

 

Well put. As I thought about the decision to move on, I came to the conclusion that there’s no perfect time to ever do so. That said, other than the head coach, this is as close to a reboot as you can ask for. Do these next few months get you excited, especially as an almost entirely new staff take charge?

DF: Just had to slip in a reference to removing the head coach, didn’t you?

Bouncing back from a rough season is the most appealing story line in sports, in anything really. Take a look at any movie you have ever watched (or, in your case, perhaps even been involved in). The hero experiences conflict just before redemption. Now, I am not saying Notre Dame is the hero. I am saying watching the team, the program, try to rebound has me very interested.

The staff turnover is an added wrinkle, and will only increase the work ahead for the program. Before the players can learn the plays, they have to learn the staff. Before that, the staff has to learn about each other.

 

So what’s the plan with the blog? You plan on getting to know the characters below the fold in the comments? Keep the A-to-Z series rolling? Do a better job proof-reading?

DF: I do not intend to outright abandon any institution or established series you have devoted years to. Thus, I would expect A-to-Z to continue in some form. But we will see. That is an easy thing to say when I have not yet reached the misery that must be “Q, R, S, …”

I would like to engage with the readers, but only so far as logic and rational conversation will allow. I have no interest in devolving to who knows what depths. Proof-reading, well, I want to say I will excel at that, but that just sets me up to eat a lot of crow when I miss a letter in April.

 

Smart. Will tell you about the A-to-Z… This roster is a front-loaded one, alphabetically, at least.

DF: All of high school I had a locker next to a Favre. (Not really related.) I understand the luxuries the alphabet can provide.

 

Let’s go rapid fire for a second: Favorite game you saw in person at Notre Dame?

DF: Either the 2012 Stanford game or the 2011 South Florida game. I realize how absurd that latter answer sounds, but that is part of why it stands the test of time. It was such a unique experience. Plus, being allowed to go back to the dorm for an hour at halftime made the whole day more entertaining.

 

Best road game experience?

DF: 2010 Army in Yankee Stadium jumps to the top of the heap, though I suppose technically not a road game. Go ahead and score against me for this, but I am a lifelong Yankees fan. That was a big one for me.

(KA note: The Observer must not have had the $$ to send the editor to Dublin…)

(DF note to KA’s note: I graduated in May 2012. The Observer did manage to send four staffers to Dublin the following September. Sometimes I wonder if I would not have been better off if I had taken two years to get through fifth grade.)

 

Favorite player to watch during your time as a student?

DF: Golden Tate could have walked around the football field as Maximus, for all I’m concerned, given how entertaining he often was. Though Lou Nix also holds a lofty place in my regard.
I lived a door down from Lou for two years, part of the reasoning there.

 

Favorite villain of the Irish from your time watching/following Notre Dame football?

DF: Pete Carroll runs away with the award. His candidacy is enhanced by my Wisconsin-bred Packer fandom.I do not like disliking Pete Carroll. I very much wish I could be indifferent toward him. The Falcons granted me that luxury for nine months.

 

Part of what has me excited about this transition is that I actually thought you’d be a good person to turn the keys over to, as I enjoyed reading your stuff when you were at The Observer and covering the Irish in your post-graduation years. What’s the most exciting part for you about taking over the blog? And what do you look forward to doing with it?

DF: I am most excited for the chance to write, and the chance to write about something on which I consider myself relatively knowledgeable. I look forward to seeing where the blog environment takes me. The open-ended aspect of it presents all sorts of possibilities.

Theoretically, I can be more freewheeling than elsewhere, get in-and-out quicker of some pieces, spend more time on others. I know Notre Dame fans of all varieties — the obsessed, the apathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, etc. — including some who have yet to decide how they feel about Tommy Rees. (Feel positively about him. It’s that simple.)

My sample size is certainly representative of the fan base as a whole. That wide swath is what makes covering Notre Dame enjoyable, and very well may provide the blog some direction and material on its own.

Oh, and I appreciate those kind words, Keith. I’ll Venmo you $20 later tonight.

 

Sliding a final question into my lightning round. What’s your handle on NDNation? (Kidding!)

DF: I will take my right to not incriminate myself, otherwise known as the Fifth.

Notre Dame makes Alexander and Balis hires official

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Notre Dame confirmed the news that Del Alexander and Matt Balis are joining Brian Kelly’s staff. As expected, Alexander will coach wide receivers while Balis was named director of football performance.

The program announced both hires on Thursday.

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

Alexander, who’ll lean on his West Coast roots and familiarity with new offensive coordinator Chip Long, said the following:

“I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country. Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

Balis comes to Notre Dame from UConn, with an impressive pedigree that counts jobs at Mississippi State, Florida, Virginia and Utah. He takes over for Paul Longo, who is taking a leave of absence from the football program, per the official release.

“Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh,” Kelly said. “He’s already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn’t be more excited to have him in place moving forward.”