Martin, Grace give back, get ready

One of the major perks of playing for Notre Dame is the opportunity to play in a number of iconic stadiums.

The excitement in Irish senior linebacker Jarrett Grace's voice as he describes what it was like to play at Soldier Field, Sun Life Stadium and the Aviva Stadium in Dublin illustrates that reality few have the chance to realize.

Grace likewise enjoyed the experience of playing at Cowboys Stadium last October though it always be remembered as the site of his season-ending leg injury in 2013.

Grace plans to make that unpleasant memory a distant one, too.

"At the pace I am going now I think there is no question that I will be available," Grace said. "I try to be aggressive with everything I do but at the same time you don't want to go too fast. When you are painting a house you don't want to put all the coats on at the same time. I'm going to be smart with it but when it is time to put the pedal to the metal I will."

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has spoken about his desire to see Grace get back on the field for the season opener against Rice and while Grace understands that there needs to be a modicum of caution, he mirrors his coach's enthusiasm.

While content with the progress he has made physically since the injury, it was initially a tough adjustment. He went from front-line starter to cheerleading from the sidelines. And then after Christmas, when many people had forgotten about football, Grace's struggle was just beginning.

"Coming back after winter break with the slush on the ground after a tough South Bend winter was hard," Grace said. "I was just trudging to class and trying to walk. I couldn't really make it on time because I had my big boots on. I was just thinking ‘How can I keep doing this?'. But eventually after coming to class every day covered in sweat and breathing hard I realized that if could make it to class like that every day, then I could overcome any rehab."

Sometimes with a leg injury there is concern that the player may not fully regain his agility. Grace isn't worried about that, and if anything feels that his remodeled leg can give him an advantage similar to that which Arnold Schwarzenegger had in Terminator.

"I feel like other people should be worried about me because I have metal in my leg now," Grace said. "I am bringing metal onto the field so other players should be scared."

Others' Centered

Grace and seven of his teammates were taking part in a class Thursday run by the Center for Social Concerns where the players split the day between class and spending time at the Corvilla home for people with developmental disabilities on Bulla Road near campus. The players cooked food and played some basketball with the residents, and senior center Nick Martin was delighted to get a chance to give something back to the community.

"We meet the same people all week so we really get to know them," Martin said. "For the first five minutes you are a little nervous but then after the second or third day you are really involved. A lot of the time you are stuck in the bubble of class and football so it is nice to get out and visit Corvilla and make people happy."

The 2014 Irish offensive line is as deep as it has been during the five-year Kelly era. Competition for five starting jobs among at least seven viable contenders will be fierce. But despite coming off his own season-ending (knee) injury, Martin looks forward to working with, rather than against his fellow linemates.

"We are a tight-knit group," Martin said. "Last night we had 15 of us out at dinner having a great time. We spent two hours together and not even eating but just hanging out. It is awesome to be part of this group where everybody just helps everybody else."

That cookout was a major attraction and everyone agreed that offensive lineman Christian Lombard was the king of the grill. Grace said Lombard has been given the nickname "Fifth-Year Father" for the way the grad student takes charge, and Martin thinks Lombard's kitchen pedigree could be a viable alternative to football.

"Lombard takes great pride in his craft," Martin said. "If football doesn't work out then culinary school could definitely be an option." Top Stories