The Lowdown on First Day of Frosh Practice

This wasn't a highly heralded recruiting class which took the practice field for the first time Monday at Notre Dame. But a couple of coaches hearkened to the past in watching their students: the running back who reminded Desmond Robinson of Tony Driver, and the linebacker who reminded Kirk Doll of Bobbie Howard. Head coach Bob Davie wanted to take it easy on the youngsters, bringing them along slowly and inviting them to an evening barbecue at his home.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com

August 13, 2001

 FROSH PRACTICE: SHADES OF BOBBIE HOWARD AND TONY DRIVER

By The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

 NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – Looks can be deceiving, especially in the case of 22 young athletes whose bodies three, four and five years from now when they achieve their peak will be far different than they are today.

 Nineteen scholarship players and three walk-ons took to the practice field Monday to start a big-time college football career in earnest. Well, almost in earnest. The serious part of their conditioning as athletes and Notre Dame football players won't begin until practices start with the upperclassmen on Thursday; and any impact most of these players will have on the Irish is probably a couple of years away.

 In the meantime, Monday was a chance for Bob Davie and his staff to take a look at a recruiting class that is far less heralded than in years past, failed to rank in the Top 10 among recruiting gurus; but which Davie says presents speed and athleticism at each position.

"It's too early to evaluate," Davie said after the morning practice session when asked if any of the freshmen stood out. "I think you just have to look at the class in general. There's a lot of athletic players that can play different positions. Speed would be something, not just wide receivers and defensive backs, but you've got three linebackers that look like they can run."

Davie also singled out offensive linemen Zack Giles and Darin Mitchell as "both guys that are athletic.

 "I think if you have to put a generalization on the whole class, it's athletic and guys who are multi-dimensional guys who can play different positions."

Even if there were no standouts on Monday, no team drills, no scholarship quarterback to "ooh" and "aaah" over, everybody still wanted to make comparisons.

 Linebackers coach Kirk Doll said Brandon Hoyte reminded him of Bobbie Howard, probably because of his short (6-0) stature. Doll said Hoyte was working out at Will linebacker; Corey Mays at Sam linebacker; and Marcus Wilson at drop linebacker.

"They're three nice, young linebackers," Doll said. "I'm pretty excited about those guys. They've got some talent, they're athletic, they've got good movement and they're good learners. Those are the key ingredients."

 It also looks like the linebackers like to hit. Even though there was no contact, Corey Mays put a little hit on Marcus Wilson during some passing drills.

 Rashon Powers-Neal, listed as an outside linebacker on the frosh roster, worked out with the defensive backs. He's playing safety for now. At 6-3, 215 pounds, it looks like he has a frame that could handle some weight. He's one of those players whose positions could change, moving to the front seven.

Another likeness was to Tony Driver. Running backs coach Desmond Robinson said that's who Ryan Grant reminded him of in a football uniform. Robinson acknowledged it was too early for him to know anything about his three running backs, except to judge them in stature, and said that Grant reminded him of Driver.

Appearances could be deceiving, and Marcus Wilson, the 5-11 running back from Staten Island looked the best of the three running backs in agility drills, but Robinson said not to take that to mean the other two running backs ( Grant and Cory Jones ) lacked agility.

Robinson pointed out that Wilson had attended Notre Dame football camp and was more familiar with the specific drills Notre Dame uses than his two new teammates.

Among the 19 scholarship players were nine who had attended the Notre Dame football camp the previous summer. That included Mark LeVoir, who is listed at 6-7, 310 pounds. He was rated one of the premier tight ends in the country, but it's hard to imagine him as anything other than a tackle.

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LOW-KEY IS WATCHWORD: Davie noted to reporters afterwards that the byword for the day was low-key.

 "I sat in the back and listened in on all the position meetings and it's amazing how quickly you try to get into things as coaches," Davie said. "It's as if you try to put half the playbook in right away and I doubt that any of them can digest much of anything, let alone come out here and retain all the things that were said.

 "You hate to see them get paralyzed by all the Xs and Os," Davie continued. "So, rather than do all that, we came out here today and just tried to take it slow. We're just taking it one step at a time, just trying to give these guys a foundation. "One of the best things the NCAA does is allow you to bring freshmen in several days before the varsity. And I know these guys appreciate that because it's totally new for them. You combine the mental part of it, the physical part—coming out with new shoes and different helmets and different shoulder pads.

"First of all, you want them to enjoy it. It's not a pressure situation. I told them last night if we didn't want you, you wouldn't be here. So you don't have to go out there and earn that scholarship the first day of practice. It's one step in a long, long process."

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NO IMMEDIATE HELP: Davie said he doesn't' expect any single member of the new class to make a tremendous impact on the team this season, and he believes that it is a measure of how solidly he has built a foundation during his years as head coach.

Except for a solution to the lingering cornerback problem, looking for someone to step up to take the place of Anthony Denman at Will linebacker, and settling on an offensive guard, Davie's Irish will be an experienced and talented lot—just needing to live up to all its potential and promise.

"Fortunately, we're in a position this year where there are some freshmen who can step up and help us on special teams," Davie said. "It's going to be difficult for a freshman to jump up and be a key member of this football team. I think we have a little more solid foundation than we've had in recent years."

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THE INITIAL LOOK: Here are the positions where the freshmen worked out Monday:

 Zack Giles, 6-4, 285, worked out at center; Darin Mitchell, also listed at 6-4, 285, worked out at guard—both under line coach Dave Borbely;

LeVoir, tight end Matt Root (6-6, 225) of Tallahassee, Dan Stevenson (6-5, 300) from Barrington, Il., and walk-on Casey Dunn (6-5, 250) worked out under tackles and tight ends coach Steve Addazio;

Carlos Campbell (6-1, 190) from Hampton, Va., and Matt Shelton (6-1, 170) from Collierville, Tenn., worked out with wide receivers coach Joker Phillips;

Running backs Ryan Grant (6-1, 198) from Nyack, N.Y., Cory Jones, (6-2, 215) from Seattle; and Marcus Wilson (5-11, 180) from Staten Island worked under Robinson;

Walk-on quarterback Pat Gillingham from California (6-1, 190) was tutored by Kevin Rogers, whose plate gets much fuller with the arrival of his three sophomore quarterbacks on Tuesday and the first full team practice on Thursday.

Jeff Thompson (6-5, 265) from Notre Dame's backyard Granger,Ind., and Brian Beidatsch (6-4, 265) of Milwaukee worked under defensive line coach Greg Mattison;

Justin Tuck (6-5, 215) from Kellyton, Ala., Corey Mays (6-1, 234) from Chicago, and Brandon Hoyte, 6-0, 219) from Parlin, N.J., worked under linebackers coach Kirk Doll.

Cornerback Lione Bolen (6-1, 185) from Westhampton, N.J., safety Quentin Burrell, (6-185) from Decatur, Ga., safety Rashon Power


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