It will not be only the fans who need to adjust to the expanded, renovated and updated Notre Dame Stadium. The $400 million Campus Crossroads Project and its bells-and-whistles will demand some renewed focus from the team itself. That was part of Irish coach Brian Kelly’s reasoning in holding Saturday’s practice in the Stadium.
Largely an intrasquad scrimmage, the practice utilized the video board above the south end zone.
“You start to run your offense down to that scoreboard and big screen, it is imposing in that it can distract you if you’re not really locked in,” Kelly said. “… That’s a different dynamic in that stadium. I thought that was great to be in there today. We gave them a chance to scrimmage with those things that can tend to distract players at times.”
With that in mind, Notre Dame will hold an open scrimmage Aug. 20, cleverly-coined the “New & Gold Game,” featuring a performance by the band, cheerleaders on the sidelines and other aspects of a game day experience. The practice will not only serve to introduce fans to the Stadium’s new amenities, but also to condition the Irish to the less-obvious game day items that have changed, including where they dress.
“We’re going to treat it as a game,” Kelly said. “We’re going in the locker room. We’re going to make it as much like a game situation and create that so it’s not the first time we do it in all respects. I want to get that out of the way before we play Temple.”
Notre Dame unveiled some of those aspects in the last few days.
It seems the players may have approved of some of the locker room updates just a little bit.
At the end of that player tour of the locker room, Kelly awarded a scholarship to (now-former) walk-on receiver Austin Webster. Webster was named a captain back in December, the first walk-on to hold that honor in Irish history. Whether he still holds that distinction is a matter of semantics for another time.
Webster’s scholarship brings Notre Dame to the NCAA maximum allowed of 85. Kelly entered preseason practice knowing he had one scholarship available to recognize a player with, but said he did not expect that player to be Webster, captainship notwithstanding.
“When we came into camp, he was not on the list to get one. He earned it,” Kelly said. “… He wasn’t guaranteed one. He had to go earn it and he earned it.”
Webster will undoubtedly chip in on special teams, seeing action on two units, according to Kelly, but his contributions have extended well beyond the field.
“He was a great representative of all [the 20-plus walk-ons] and even touched scholarship players with the right traits that I was looking for, that I wanted to model,” Kelly said. “So not only did we have a guy that was sacrificing for Notre Dame in all those areas, he also possessed the traits that I wanted to mirror right out of the gates.”