A&M game gets personal for Notre Dame
By KERRY SMITH
When two teams do not compete regularly, it's usually hard to start a rivalry.
Notre Dame and Texas A&M have met only three times in their programs' histories, but personal ties on both sides make Saturday's season opener as competitive as any heated rivalry.
Twenty players on the Irish roster hail from Texas, and seven attended high school with Texas A&M players. Irish head coach Bob Davie spent nine years coaching beneath Aggie head coach R.C. Slocum.
"It is a different kind of game playing against someone you may consider your best friend," said Davie. "But I think both of us have been in this profession long enough and both of us plan on being in this profession for a long time to come."
Saturday's season opener is not only an opportunity for friends to take opposite sides of the field, but, more importantly, it's a chance for Davie and the Irish to prove they are more competitive than last year's 5-7 record shows.
Junior quarterback Arnaz Battle will take the helm for the Irish on offense. Battle paid his dues for two years as Jarious Jackson's understudy and is ready to lead an offense tailored to his strengths.
"I think the guys are fired up. We are a lot closer this year and we're all in this together," said Battle.
Notre Dame's aerial attack will rely on top returning receiver Joey Getherall. His 35 catches in 1999 make him a potent offensive threat. Tight ends Jabari Holloway and Dan O'Leary will also be go-to players Saturday. The Irish plan to balance Battle's throwing game with a diversified running attack supplied by the trio of Tony Fisher, Terrence Howard and Julius Jones.
The Irish coaching staff made some changes to its defensive strategy in the off-season, switching from a two-end tackle set-up to one featuring two ends, a tackle and a nose guard. Davie hopes this adjustment will improve on last season's coverage, but knows only time will tell.
Anthony Denman and Rocky Boiman return as starting linebackers for the Irish, while seniors Tony Driver and Brock Williams, both coming off of suspensions, will anchor the secondary.
The Irish special teams unit has been competitive within itself. David Miller, Nick Setta, Joey Hilbold and Matt McNew will rotate on kicking duties.
Saturday's game against the Aggies begins an uphill battle for the Irish as Notre Dame is slated to take on Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State and Stanford in coming weeks, but Davie's squad knows better than to look past their opener.
"I can't help but notice our schedule, but our team is focused on A&M," said Davie. "A&M is such a good opponent. With all those personal ties, we don't have the excuse of overlooking A&M."
All Sports Stories for Friday, September 1, 2000