Keith Arnold

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Updates from South Africa point to student-athlete experience

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With most of Notre Dame’s football team is assembled on campus for the beginning of summer workouts and classes, a group of the university’s student-athletes is experiencing life on another continent in the newly formed study abroad program.

While we mostly stick to football in these parts, we mentioned the abbreviated study abroad program that is allowing student-athletes to take part in a valuable student experience that has until now been unavailable to them because of their athletic commitments.

Well, we’ve gotten two updates from UND.com’s travel journals, and it appears that the experience is a memorable one. Courtesy of former ND basketball player Zach Hillesland, here are a couple of the greatest hits from the time in South Africa.

First, this piece on why the program exists in the first place, the brainchild of athletic director Jack Swarbrick, former basketball star Ruth Riley and international studies director Rosemary Max:

“Why can’t student-athletes have the full academic experience?”

That was the question swirling around campus that eventually led to the creation of a student-athlete study abroad program (the first of its kind for Notre Dame), a three-week trip combining study, service, physical training, and cultural exploration that’s currently taking place all over South Africa. The program is entitled, “Negative Attitudes: A Cultural, Historical, and Social Psychological Analysis of Racism in South Africa.”

The brainchild of Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick, former Irish women’s basketball star/current MBA candidate Ruth Riley and Notre Dame International Studies director Rosemary Max, the program has attracted 16 student-athletes from seven different varsity sports: football, volleyball, swimming and diving, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, fencing and golf.

The intention of the program was to produce a genuine study abroad experience for student-athletes, an experience they usually have to forgo due to their demanding schedules.

 

Next for some fun stuff. Before a safari trip to Kruger National Park, the student-athletes were asked to determine their “Spirit Animals.”

The group decided that Jaylon Smith was a leopard—laid back, but one of the wild’s most efficient hunters. Corey Robinson was an impala—bouncy, energetic, and surrounded by females. (Robinson also sounds like one of the trip’s MVPs, as he’s brought along a ukulele and an adventurous attitude.)  Jerry Tillery? He went with a hippo. Capable of lounging around in water, and also biting you in half.

(Tillery also has taken to campus life. As a first-semester freshman, he already organized a “Yoga & Yogurt” event in his dorm, explaining to Hillesland his thought process.

“Well, yoga was the first component, and then I just thought it could use an alliterative aspect.” Sounds like a smart kid.)

Both entries (Part One & Part Two) are worth reading, as the group explored the poverty stricken Kliptown orphanage, the Apartheid Museum, and will end their trip with two weeks in Capetown.

So as Swarbrick made waves a few weeks ago when he expressed his disinterest in any version of collegiate athletics that turn student-athletes into employees, opportunities like this—no small financial investment, it’s worth adding—show that Notre Dame is deeply committed to their scholarship athletes getting a full student experience.

Meyer does his best to flip Kraemer

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How do you know a Notre Dame recruit is a good one? Because Urban Meyer wants him.

And while the Irish’s 2016 recruiting class has yet to fully hit its stride, two offensive linemen—blue-chippers Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg—had offers and major interest from Meyer and hometown program Ohio State, only to choose Notre Dame.

But nobody expects Meyer to quit after a commitment. And it sounds like the Ohio State coaching staff is doubling-down its efforts to flip Kraemer. The good news for Irish fans? It doesn’t sound like Kraemer is budging.

After earning an invitation to The Opening, Cleveland.com caught up with Kraemer, and asked about the Buckeyes’ pursuit.

“Coach (Kerry) Coombs called me last week and was at the school last week,” Kraemer told Cleveland.com. “They have not stopped. Coach Coombs said they aren’t going to stop until I sign, so I’ll take it as it is and focus on Notre Dame.”

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Kraemer is a recruit worth chasing. He just earned rave reviews at the Columbus Regional Camp. One of the top prospects in the country, he’s already committed to the U.S. Army All-American game.

247 Sports views him as a 5-star prospect. Rivals views him as the 31st best player in the country. And he’s a key building block for the Irish at tackle, a position that needs restocking this February.

In days past, Meyer served as one of the ultimate thorns in the side of Notre Dame, routinely plucking top players from Charlie Weis’ recruiting classes when he was at Florida. And while Meyer managed to pull away Taylor Decker (who has turned into an excellent tackle for the Buckeyes), Brian Kelly has more than held his own against Ohio State, especially along the offensive line.

And while Ohio State would like to add Kraemer to former Irish assistant Ed Warinner‘s depth chart, Kraemer plans to honor his pledge to Notre Dame, taking pride in his decision.

“I am very happy with Notre Dame and I love it there. I knew when I first visited that was the place for me, and I’ve never looked back since,” Kraemer told Cleveland.com. “I take pride in the fact that one of the top players in Ohio is going to Notre Dame over Ohio State.

“I think it shows that they still have that recruiting tie in Ohio and can keep it going.”

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Stanley, Smith and Redfield headline five Irish preseason All-Americans

Notre Dame v Syracuse
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College football staple Phil Steele released his 2015 Preseason All-American team on Monday. And with five Notre Dame players on his four-team squad, Steele is the first of the major preseason predictors who seem very bullish on the Irish.

The Irish were the only team in college football with three first-team All-Americans, with Ronnie Stanley, Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield selected to Steele’s first team. (Not a typo on Redfield.)

Joining them were third-team defensive tackle Sheldon Day and fourth-team cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Interestingly, a season after Will Fuller scored 15 touchdowns, he went unnamed on Steele’s list.

Ohio State led all schools with eight selections on Steele’s roster. Notre Dame will face off against four USC All-Americans in Cody Kessler (1st team), Max Tuerk (1st team), Su’a Cravens (2nd team) and Adoree Jackson. Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd received first-team mention while running back James Connor was named to the second team.

Stanford has a pair of All-Americans in Josh Garnett and Blake Martinez, while Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich was named to the fourth team. So was Virginia safety Quin Blanding, whose 123 tackles as a freshman was almost double Redfield’s total of 68.

Expect a slew of preseason accolades to come this month, debate and talking points for the summer until they’re rendered completely worthless once the calendar hits September.

 

KeiVarae Russell takes to social media to announce his return

Oklahoma v Notre Dame
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If a picture is worth a thousand words, KeiVarae Russell’s most recent post on Instagram is worth plenty more than that. The Notre Dame cornerback, who spent last school year serving a university suspension, has announced his return to the university via Instagram.

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While his acceptance to re-enroll has been imminent for a while, Russell making things official solidifies a key component in the Irish secondary. Pairing Russell, an All-American candidate and lock-down cornerback, with rising junior Cole Luke gives the Irish defense a huge boost.

No word officially out of Notre Dame, but with Ishaq Williams heading to South Bend this weekend, the timing is right. So with his academic detour out of the way, Russell now has a summer to make up for lost time with his teammates before officially returning to the field in September.

Williams to return for summer school, football future unclear

ishaq-williams-numbers-full
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Ishaq Williams‘ future at Notre Dame was thrown off course last August, when he and four teammates were caught up in an academic dishonesty case. Nine months later, the defensive end, a projected senior starter in 2014, appears to have some clarity on the school front, though his on-field future is still cloudy.

The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen reports that Williams will be back on campus Monday to begin summer school. That means Williams’ re-admission into the university after a two-semester suspension appears to be complete.

What isn’t as certain is his return to the football field. With Notre Dame’s 85-man scholarship limit pushed to the brink, Williams return to Brian Kelly’s team—or his ability to be qualified academically to play—is still unclear.

While Kelly has spoken clearly about cornerback KeiVarae Russell’s return to both the field and university, Williams’ status is murkier. And without the details of what actually happened last August—student privacy laws and university policy have kept that under lock and key—it’s impossible to know what Williams’ situation actually is.

(Williams could be in a situation similar to the one that DaVaris Daniels reportedly found himself in, wanting to return to the football field, but unable to meet eligibility requirements after grades were adjusted.)

As Kelly himself pointed out in April, summer school could be part of the road back to eligibility, with his role on the team not necessarily solidified until fall camp.

“(There are) things that he’ll have to take care of in the summertime just to get the ball moving for his ability to be reinstated,” Kelly said back in April.

Making things even more interesting is news that Williams could potentially graduate from Notre Dame (something that’d likely take until the end of the fall semester) without playing for the Irish this fall. That scenario was thrown into the mix on Twitter, reportedly coming from a Brian Kelly talk to the ND Club of Miami.

That scenario sounds like it’d be a complete surprise to both Williams and his family. But with Williams’ eligibility clock technically still running last season, he has just this fall to complete his four seasons of on-field play.

The reality of the situation is that there isn’t necessarily a playbook for something this complicated, with too many variables for anything to be set in stone. A bursting-at-the-seams roster, a confusing eligibility situation and the process of readmission are all playing factors.

But getting Williams back on campus is the first step, and after a long layoff, that’s set to happen on Monday.