Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 23, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 OCT. 23, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T he late Ara Parseghian often stated that his first season at Notre Dame in 1964 had perhaps the purest joy be- cause of the failure all the returning players had experienced in the years prior, including only two wins in 1963. Once they felt the elation of win- ning consistently, starting 9-0 and coming so close to a national title, practice was not a grind but a plea- sure for them as an opportunity to absorb more each day. After last year's 4-8 fiasco, a simi- lar feeling is brewing currently with a revamped Notre Dame regime that included six new on-field staff mem- bers and a new strength and condi- tioning staff. Three straight blowout wins to finish this September cannot be categorized with 1964 at this point, but the feeling of redemption and determination to avoid embarrassment again is tangible. "There's no question that not living up to the standards of Notre Dame football had an impetus on how we trained and how we went about our business in the off season," head coach Brian Kelly said. "… They carry that with them on a day-to-day basis. There was an eagerness from the very beginning to want to change the scorecard." According to Kelly, it had to begin with the coaching and teaching that fostered more positive reinforcement rather than constant berating and beatdowns. "When it comes to enjoying it, you still have to create the right atmo- sphere," he said. "You have to create an environment where the kids enjoy coming to practice every day, and that is a positive coaching environment. "That's the difference between last year and this year. We've got a great environment where kids enjoy coming to practice every single day, coupled with the fact that they want to settle up a score — and that is to bring back Notre Dame football to where it should be." Part of that environment involved a reconfiguration of the locker room and interaction dynamics. This was prompted during Kelly's conversa- tion with current senior walk-on of- fensive lineman Sam Bush amidst the nearly 100 exit interviews at the end of last season. Kelly has spoken about how there is a symbiosis among the offense, defense and special teams to create complementary football where each benefits the other, and the roots of it took place in the offseason. It began with new strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis rotating different workout partners, and spilled into other arenas such as not having position groups assigned next to each other. "It was intentional to move the locker room around," Kelly ex- plained. "We wanted a more cohe- sive locker room in the sense that we wanted linebackers with offensive linemen, and we wanted defensive tackles with wide receivers. Creating the atmosphere of a cohesive group and team starts in the locker room, and it works its way into how Coach Balis each day changes the workout groups, and they get excited about somebody different each day. "Those are the underpinnings of how you develop the camaraderie and guys caring about pulling for each side. … There's no question that there is a tighter group here because of the things we did here in the offseason." Kelly said he gave Bush the assign- ment on how to best reconfigure the locker room, and they worked to- gether on who should be where. "We actually broke it down by per- sonalities and different people that we wanted in areas, and then we have block captains [including keep- ing the locker area clean] …" None of that matters if on-field ex- ecution or practice habits and taking instruction remain poor. But if one is to restore order in the house, it begins with creating a positive home environment. ✦ UNDER THE DOME HOME MAKEOVER Chemistry on and off field helped fuel the early Notre Dame surge The Irish have become a tighter and more cohesive group due to changes made during the offseason, including switching up locker assignments so that players at the same position were no longer grouped together. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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