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Pregame Six Pack: Irish invade Dublin

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Football is finally here. And while I wasn’t able to watch South Carolina and Vanderbilt play one of their patented SEC slugfests, it’s good to know that it’s finally time to start talking about the games, instead of all the other rubbish that happens this time of year.

With thousands of fans from Navy and Notre Dame descending on the Emerald Isle, it’s time to finally kickoff the 2012 football season.

As usual here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers of miscellaneous musings as the Fighting Irish prepare to play the Midshipmen.

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1. While the first month of the season has been tough on Notre Dame, the Irish have usually fared well in the season opener.

Nobody is likely to forget last season’s opening game debacle against USF, but overall the season opener hasn’t usually been the problem for the Irish. While most bemoan the front-loaded nature of recent Irish schedules, it’s actually been a good run for opening days in recent years.

Lou Holtz: 9-2
Bob Davie: 4-1
Ty Willingham: 2-1
Charlie Weis: 4-1
Brian Kelly: 1-1

The Irish have won 20 of their last 25 openers, logging a collective 102-16-5 record overall. But it’s been a decade since they’ve gotten out of September unscathed, dating back to that magical start to the Ty Willingham era.

Beating Navy this weekend is the first step. But getting on a roll and getting past Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State will have the Irish right back on the map and in the hunt for a BCS bid.

(Sounds easy, right?)

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2. Starting away from home might not be a bad thing for rookie quarterback Everett Golson.

Ideally, you’d like your first-time starting quarterback to have the benefit of a home crowd and familiar surroundings. But the last time the Irish went on the road with a first-time starting quarterback things worked out just fine.

In 1994, the Irish started the much ballyhooed Ron Powlus era in Evanston, Illinois and the young quarterback certainly didn’t disappoint. Powlus threw for 291 yards and four touchdowns as the Irish routed Northwestern.

Since 1985, the Irish have debuted 20 quarterbacks. Sophomore Everett Golson will be the 21st. Fourteen of them won their openers, including a string of nine straight from 85-98. Let’s take a quick hop down memory lane…

1985 — Terry Andrysiak, Soph. 37-14 victory over Ol’ Miss.
1987 — Tony Rice, Soph. 35-14 victory over Air Force.
1987 — Kent Graham, Fr. 32-25 win over Boston College.
1990 — Rick Mirer, Soph. 28-24 win over No. 4 Michigan.
1991 — Paul Faila, Fr. 45-20 win over Purdue. (Played only first series.)
1993 — Kevin McDougal, Sr. 27-12 win over Northwestern.
1994 — Ron Powlus, Soph. 42-15 win over Northwestern.
1995 — Tom Krug, Jr. 44-14 win over Air Force.
1998 — Jarious Jackson, Sr. 36-20 win over No. 5 Michigan.
1998 — Eric Chappell, Jr. 10-0 loss to USC.
2000 — Arnaz Battle, Jr. 24-10 win over Texas A&M.
2000 — Gary Godsey, Soph. 23-21 win over Purdue.
2000 — Matt LoVecchio, Fr. 20-14 win over Stanford.
2001 — Carlyle Holiday, Soph. 24-3 loss to Texas A&M.
2003 — Brady Quinn, Fr. 23-10 loss to Purdue.
2007 — Jimmy Clausen, Fr. 31-10 loss to Penn State.
2007 — Evan Sharpley, Soph. 38-0 loss to USC.
2010 — Dayne Crist, Jr. 23-12 win over Purdue.
2010 — Tommy Rees, Fr. 28-3 win over No. 15 Utah.

We’ll find out if Golson’s debut is a footnote in Irish history or the beginning of a new era in Notre Dame quarterbacking.

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3. If Navy’s passing game is going to give the Irish fits, it’ll have to do it without its two starting wide receivers.

It isn’t just Brian Kelly sitting key starters out for the season opener. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has left starting wide receiver Brandon Turner home for a violation of team rules. Turner, at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds, was a red zone threat, solid blocker, and also  led the Midshipmen in receiving last season.

It’s been a disappointing start to the season for Turner, who failed his physical readiness test and missed a chunk of training camp. Quarterback Trey Miller will also be missing starter Matt Aiken with a knee injury that he suffered during fall camp. Still learning the intricacies of the triple option attack, Miller will be breaking in two new wide receivers, not exactly the plan heading into the season.

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4. Even after an embarrassing loss last season, memories of a Navy victory are still fresh in the heads of the Midshipmen.

Last season’s 42-point domination by the Irish didn’t erase the positive memories Navy players had from their shocking 35-17 victory over the Irish in 2010. With Ricky Dobbs running the offense and Alexander Teich bulldozing his way through the middle of the Irish defense, Navy forced Dayne Crist into some bad decisions and the Midshipmen coasted to a 35-17 win.

It’s a victory many players from the team are going to draw on this Saturday.

“It was an awesome game. Offensively, everything was clicking. It just seemed like every play was working and everyone executed,” Howell told the Capital Gazette. “You put that many points and yards up on a high-caliber team and it’s a lot of fun.”

A win by Navy would give the Midshipmen seniors a stunning three victories in four years over the Irish, an accomplishment only done twice in school history (1937 and 1964).

“Beating them one year doesn’t necessarily make it easier to beat them next year. Notre Dame always has an entire roster of big-time players and we need to remember that,” lineman Josh Cabral said. “At the same time, I think we’ve developed a sense that if we go in there and play as hard as we can and execute at a high level we have a chance. Obviously, we have to play perfect football in a lot of areas in order to beat them.”

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5. It takes quite a bit of work to turn the pitch into the gridiron.

There might not be a more unique stadium than the one the Irish and Midshipmen will battle in this weekend. Dublin’s Aviva Stadium hosts soccer and rugby matches, and will welcome Lady Gaga in a few weeks. But they had to do a little work to transform the stadium into a football field.

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6. It may not be the easiest place to play a football game, but all the Irish players and coaches are thankful to be playing in Dublin.

Brian Kelly might have caught a little flack for saying he preferred playing his football games in South Bend than Dublin, but it’s clear that this is a great life experience for both players and coaches.

While the logistics and challenges of uprooting a football program and putting them in a foreign country add some complexities to an already difficult upcoming season, team captain Manti Te’o said it best.

“It’s my first time outside the United States,” Te’o told UND.com. “I don’t think you could do this anywhere else but here at Notre Dame. It’s a special place and they give us opportunities to explore not only the states but the world and I’m really humbled to be here and really grateful to be here.”

He’s certainly not the only one that feels that way.

Irish A-to-Z: Mark Harrell

Mark Harrell
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As a fifth-year player, Mark Harrell is the elder statesman of the offensive line. He’s also still waiting for his opportunity to crack the starting lineup.

That chance won’t likely come unless something goes wrong. But Harrell is the closing thing to an insurance policy on the offensive line, a versatile reserve who has spent time playing virtually every position up front.

Likely a bridge at tackle between starters Mike McGlinchey and Alex Bars and talented freshmen Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg, Harrell’s a program player, with loyalty running two-ways as he plays out his eligibility in South Bend.

 

MARK HARRELL
6’4″, 306 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 75, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A three or four-star prospect depending on the service, Harrell was a first-team All-State player in North Carolina with offers from Michigan, Auburn, Clemson, North Carolina, South Carolina, Stanford and Tennessee.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action, saving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2013): Did not see action.

Junior Season (2014): Played in two games, seeing action against Rice and Michigan. Served as a backup at center, with the ability to also play guard and tackle.

Senior Season (2015): Saw action in five games. Played 12 snaps at right tackle against UMass, earning a +1.2 grade from PFF-College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Feels like I could copy and paste after swapping out Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin’s names.

Harrell has the type of positional versatility you want in a backup. He served as a reserve center last year during the Blue-Gold game, and while he’s no longer on the depth chart behind Nick Martin, he’d likely be called upon in a pinch rather than burning Tristen Hoge’s redshirt. What happens if Ronnie Stanley or Mike McGlinchey go down at tackle is largely a mystery as well, so there’s likely playing opportunities, but again, only if things start to go awry.

Harrell will likely spend some time on special teams in 2015, capable of taking some snaps on field goal and punt teams. But the depth chart is packed and one of the toughest spots to get on the field, and Harrell’s lack of opportunity is largely because of the talent in front of him.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

A fifth-year backup, Harrell was tapped by Kelly this spring to move outside to tackle, hoping to solidify a depth chart that’s thinner than you’d expect, considering the impressive recruiting Harry Hiestand has done during his tenure in South Bend. But Harrell is likely on the outside because Jerry Tillery is playing defensive tackle and Ronnie Stanley was the first offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft.

It’s hard to know what Harrell can do if we haven’t seen him do it yet. But at this point, the fact that the coaching staff preferred keeping him on the roster and serving as a backup (likely at right tackle) is telling—because there’s a very high likelihood that Harrell could’ve used his graduate transfer to step onto a campus of a lower-tier program and start right away.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

If all goes according to plan, we’ll only see Harrell in mop-up situations or on special teams. If it doesn’t? Expect to see how he does at right tackle, with a redshirt preferred for both talented freshmen tackles.

 

Regardless, peg Harrell for more appearances in 2016 than his career total of seven games, knowing that it’ll be important to gain some experience and keep McGlinchey and Bars fresh.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston

Irish A-to-Z: Tarean Folston

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Getty
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When Tarean Folston limped off the field after his third carry of the season, few knew what would happen next. The junior running back’s season was finished. But it spawned giant years for C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams, turning Prosise into a third-round draft pick and Adams into the most prolific freshman runner in school history.

That big year could’ve been Folston’s. Behind an elite offensive line, the Florida native was primed to be the leading man in the Irish backfield, with a breakout season all but guaranteed.

But injuries happen. And after working his way back into shape during spring practice and returning to a depth chart that all of a sudden has some young competition, 2016 is a chance to make up for lost time.

 

TAREAN FOLSTON
5’9.5″, 214 lbs.
Senior, No. 25, RB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Notre Dame beat out Auburn on Signing Day, waiting a few uncomfortable extra hours for a fax from Folston after he went on a late-January visit. Folston was Florida’s 4A first-team All-State running back, a do-everything high school player.

The Under-Armour All-American had offers from Oregon, Florida, Florida State and a few dozen other programs before picking Notre Dame in early January.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in 12 games, starting two as a true freshman. Nearly set a single-game freshman rushing record when he ran for 140 yards against Navy, the most since 1999. Named Offensive Newcomer of the Year.

Sophomore Season (2014): Ran for 889 yards and caught 190 yards worth of passes as the team’s leading rusher. Averaged over 5.0 yards per carry for the second-straight season. Broke 100 yards in four out of five games, coming two yards shy against North Carolina of making it five out of six.

Junior Season (2015): His season was cut short after just three carries (for 19 yards) against Texas, lost for the year with a torn ACL. Earned a medical redshirt.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

There’s no doubt in my mind that Folston wouldn’t put up monster numbers last year if he stayed healthy.

I’m doubling down on Folston. I expect the biggest season from a running back in the Kelly era — and I’m pegging Folston for a 1,200 yard, double-digit touchdown 2015.

Part of this confidence comes from seeing what Mike Sanford did riding a running QB and top-shelf back at Boise State. The other part comes from seeing Notre Dame’s offensive line figure itself out this spring instead of mixing and matching into fall camp.

But mostly it comes from the natural talent I see with Folston, a back who’ll get better as he collects touches. There’s nobody to steal them from Folston to begin the season. And after he establishes himself, there’s nobody who should take them away from him, either.

So stay healthy and Notre Dame will have a running back to showcase.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

My biggest question for Folston has also been one of his biggest strengths—the space between his ears. For two seasons, Folston’s vision and Football IQ have been excellent. The natural ability he displayed—too often in flashes—made him the envy of a depth chart filled with talented runners.

But coming back from a knee injury is different. And Folston needs to be able to cut loose with absolute conviction and get up the field, because breakaway speed has never been the power of his game.

The depth chart Folston returns to is a different beast than the one he left. Adams has the heft to run between the tackles and the speed to hit a home run. Dexter Williams is greatly improved. Even Justin Brent is an envious No. 4 back.

But Folston is an NFL running back. His versatility, ability to catch the ball in space, and make defenders miss likely didn’t go anywhere.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

This is Notre Dame’s leading ball carrier in 2016. That may be a bold statement. Or it could turn out to be an obvious one after we see Folston ripping through Texas and Nevada.

Still, this is a leap of faith considering we only saw brief glimpses of Folston is spring football, donning a non-contact jersey in the Blue-Gold game. And because of the season Adams put together in 2015. But Brian Kelly believes too much in his veteran running back and knows his value to this offense. With a running game that’ll likely be the strength of the attack, putting the ball in Folston’s hands early and often can’t be a bad plan.

I’m still betting that Josh Adams ends up with a higher yard-per-carry average, but I think Folston’s senior season will be his best in South Bend.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Fertitta

 

Irish A-to-Z: Nicco Fertitta

Nicco Fertitta CASHORE
Property of Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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As Notre Dame searches for answers at safety, one under-discussed option is sophomore Nicco Fertitta. The Las Vegas native, best known through his recruitment as the high school teammate of Alizé Jones (and outside the football world for his father Lorenzo, the Chairman & CEO of the UFC), has been overlooked before. That comes with the territory when you’re built like a walk-on.

But Fertitta’s college career is on schedule—and maybe ahead of plans. A freshman season saw Fertitta make 11 appearances. A sophomore season will see more special teams duties, and if Fertitta can find a way, a battle to get into a very uncertain two-deep at both safety positions.

An overachiever who became a key piece of the foundation at one of the best high school football programs in the country, Fertitta faces long odds to do more than play special teams. But that’s business as usual for the pint-sized heavy-hitter, who’ll look to take a step forward in his second season in South Bend.

 

NICCO FERTITTA
5’8.5″, 185 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 28, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

U.S. Army All-American, First-team All-State per the Las Vegas Review Journal. State champion, with Bishop Gorman also being named a national champion (no championship game was played).

A three-star prospect, Fertitta chose Notre Dame over offers from Arizona, Hawaii, Houston, UNLV (where his prep coach Tony Sanchez took over the program) and Utah.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2015): Played in 11 games, all in special teams appearances. He made one tackle on the season and forced a fumble against UMass.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Got the special teams contributions right. Got a little bit ahead of myself thinking he’d have a chance to play in sub-packages.

I tend to think Fertitta is going to be one of the freshmen taking the field against Texas come September 5th. He’ll likely be covering kicks and chasing down punts, but Fertitta’s freshman season will hinge on his ability to make big plays in the game’s third phase, something Scott Booker is still looking to establish.

As a safety, Fertitta could also be very helpful in sub-packages. As Notre Dame takes on a heavy dose of run-heavy (and option) offenses in Georgia Tech, Navy, Pitt and Boston College, there’s a place for a run-stuffer with the ability to play in space, and just as Kelly and the Irish used Jamoris Slaughter, Fertitta could be an option at a position that doesn’t have a ton of flexibility.

But any road onto the field as a freshman should be considered a strong debut season for Fertitta.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Fertitta’s high school highlight reel showcased an undersized safety who hit like a freight train. That physicality likely helped get him on the field in 2015, but the aforementioned size feels like a larger barrier—especially when you see the disparity between Fertitta and a strong safety like Drue Tranquil.

Notre Dame knew the player they offered. They also knew he’d play large roles in the locker room as well as on special teams. Fertitta will likely take a step forward in special teams and then have a chance to compete for a backup role, especially before the reloaded secondary gives guys like Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry a chance to get comfortable.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I expect Fertitta to play in all 13 games, but only take snaps on defense in mop-up duty. Unless injuries hit, Tranquill should be in the starting lineup with Avery Sebastian supplementing him. At free safety, Redfield will be competing with Devin Studstill, with a very large hole behind those two players.

If Fertitta looked and played the game like a center-fielder, that’s where I’d have him penciled in. But he’s a mini-Tranquil, with physical limitations also hindering his ability to be a single-high safety, making him a better fit at strong safety.

As long as there’s a hole in the depth chart at safety, you’ve got to give Fertitta a chance to see the field. And as long as there are multiple sub-packages and schemes being deployed by Brian VanGorder, there’s always a chance that a sure tackler like Fertitta can find a role. But it just feels like there are other options available that’ll better suit what VanGorder and Todd Lyght want from their secondary, leaving coverage teams the likely home for Fertitta in 2016 and beyond.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott

2018 twins Jayson and Justin Ademilola commit to Irish

Ademilola twins 247
247 Sports
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Notre Dame’s 2018 recruiting class just doubled up, adding twin brothers Jayson and Justin Ademilola. The New Jersey natives—both potential impact players on the defensive line—pledged their commitment to the Irish on Sunday, adding two more building blocks to a distant recruiting class that’s all of a sudden got some serious juice.

Fresh off a visit to South Bend, the brothers committed to Notre Dame, picking the Irish over Michigan, Auburn, Georgia, Penn State and more than a dozen other offers. They hail from St. Peter’s Prep, the same high school that produced current Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

Both Jayson and Justin took to Twitter to announce, simultaneously making the news official:

While rankings for the 2018 class (entering their junior season) aren’t formalized, 247 Sports views both brothers as 4-star prospects. Justin is more of an edge player—currently an outside linebacker or rush end—while Jayson profiles as a three-technique defensive tackle.

Steve Wiltfong, 247 Sports’ director of recruiting, caught up with Rich Hansen, the high school coach at St. Peter’s Prep. Hansen had this to say about the two brothers.

“They’re getting two guys, what they’re doing now is just the tip of the iceberg,” Hansen told 247 Sports said. “The potential, Justin is a really good athlete that can play a multiple of positions. It will be interesting how he develops and what role he fills for them and Jayson I think is going to be a monster inside for them.”

“They’re young, a lot of development is going to take place over the next two years and Notre Dame is going to get two potentially dominant football players at that level.”

The Ademilola brothers make four early commitments to the 2018 class, a sign that Notre Dame’s recruiting—and evaluation process—is humming under Mike Elston’s direction. They join blue-chip quarterback Phil Jurkovec and Indiana running back Markese Stepp.

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