Hoping for some new heroes beneath the Golden Dome
By TIM CASEY
Assistant Sports Editor
The eighteen freshmen football players arrived for their first practice on August 7, all with impressive resumes and high expectations.
Within a few days, they realized the difficult transition from high school hero to Notre Dame newcomer.
"That's natural," said coach Bob Davie of the freshmen, who are not allowed to speak with the media until after the Sept. 2 opening game against Texas A&M. "We just tell them to take it one day at a time."
For Davie, in the fourth year of his highly-publicized (and critical) tenure, getting that cliché message across to the Class of 2004, may seem like the least of his worries. But he remains focused on maintaining the confidence of impressionable freshmen.
Included in the class are three quarterbacks — Carlyle Holiday, Matt LoVecchio and Jared Clark — who are competing with junior starter Arnaz Battle and sophomore Gary Godsey for playing time.
In preparation for the college game, Davie sent the new quarterbacks play books and videotapes during the summer. But, complying with NCAA rules, the coaches could not spend extensive time teaching them. When the trio came here, that all changed.
Battle and Godsey have helped make the transition easier, counseling the freshmen on the physical and mental aspects of the position while the coaching staff can now work with them in person.
"There's a lot to learn: schemes, reading defenses and picking up blitzes," Godsey said. "It'll take time."
Less than two weeks into practice, the results are unclear. On Wednesday, Holiday, LoVecchio and Clark each took snaps for the first time against the defense. As of now, Davie said the freshmen are behind the upperclassmen on the depth chart. The three freshmen may even be grouped together for the season instead of naming a single third quarterback.
"We want to be fair to them," Davie said. "We want to give them enough reps under pressure. There's no need to rush it."
Holiday, rated the 48th-best high school player by the Chicago Sun-Times last season, is already popular among Irish fans. On Feb. 2, the first official signing day, Holiday chose Notre Dame over Nebraska, denying the Cornhuskers another top recruit and upgrading an already solid Irish quarterback class. As a senior at Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, Holiday completed 48 of 105 passes for 719 yards and rushed for 876 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
LoVecchio verbally committed to the Irish after attending the summer football camp in 1999. Partly due to his early commitment, LoVecchio did not gain the attention from the recruiting analysts that Clark and Holiday received but still was named an honorable mention USA Today All-American. A four-year letter winner at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey, LoVecchio completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,503 yards as a senior.
Clark, a 6-foot-4 220-pound freshman from Sarasota, Fla. also attended the 1999 summer camp. He started for Cardinal Mooney High School since the seventh game of his freshman season and was named first-team all-state last season. Clark finished his high school career accounting for over 5,000 yards in total offense, including 2,113 as a senior.
"I don't think I've seen a more talented group from top to bottom," Davie said. "We have it stocked for quite awhile."
Davie's enthusiasm is not limited to the quarterback trio. Other freshmen he mentioned on Wednesday as being "mature" were tight end Billy Palmer, defensive backs Vontez Duff and Preston Jackson and drop linebacker Mike Goolsby.
"He's a coach's dream," said Davie of Goolsby. "Football is very important to him. He'll be playing in games this year."
And for all freshmen, whether or not they play this season, Davie has instituted a mentor program. Each freshman has a "Big Brother," an upperclassman who helps them adjust to college life, on and off the field.
"You really see the difference in speed and intensity (from high school to college)," said Grant Irons, a senior captain, who's a "Big Brother" to wide receiver Omar Jenkins. "But it's all part of the process. They've all approached it real well."
All Sports Stories for Saturday, August 19, 2000