Irish head coach Brian Kelly spoke for the masses Thursday night following a steamy practice inside Notre Dame Stadium.
He’d seen enough – of us.
And by “us” he was referring to what the media represented: the ongoing, seemingly interminable entity of August Training Camp.
“I don’t know what to say other than we had our 26th practice,” Kelly joked. “We’ve practiced quite a bit. We’re done practicing. It’s time to play.”
Time to, as Kelly mused prior to the 2011 season opener, ‘Turn the car keys over to your kids.’
“Every coach feels really good prior to his first game,” Kelly offered of his current crew. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I think we’re very well prepared. But you have 18-to-22-year olds out there playing and we’ve got to go play. The nice part about it is we have 18, 19, 20 guys that have started games for us. That should bode well for us.
“We just need get off to a good start, settle into the game, and we’ll be fine. Our preparation has been excellent. We’ve covered everything we need to cover, and we’ve given our guys an opportunity to compete and that’s what we’ll do here in the next couple days.”
Kelly offered that five true freshmen will play on the Irish run reams (coverage or return): Return man C.J. Sanders (punt if not both punt and kickoff), running back Josh Adams, cornerback Nick Coleman, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, and kicker Justin Yoon.
Coleman is likely part of the coverage units. It’s not clear if Adams and St. Brown are part of coverage, return (as blockers), or both.
Add to that quintet the certainty that Jerry Tillery will see significant time at nose tackle and likelihood that Aliz’e Jones will earn snaps at tight end and at least seven true freshmen will debut Saturday night against the Longhorns.
Joining the freshmen seven will be another handful-plus of redshirt freshmen making their college debuts:
-- Punter Tyler Newsome
-- Guards Quenton Nelson (starter) and Alex Bars (reserve)
-- Holder (backup quarterback) DeShone Kizer
-- Tight End Nic Weishar (assumed)
-- Defensive End Jonathan Bonner (assumed)
Kelly added that true freshman running back Dexter Williams hasn’t been ruled out for varsity duties this season, but work remains to that end.
“Dexter is still developmental, but we like where he’s going,” said Kelly. “He’s making great progress. He’s got some elite skills, but he’s learning. We’re going to keep working with him, and there’s a chance he could play this year.
“Same thing with Justin Brent. We moved his position (from wide receiver) to running back and it’s too early. They both just need time. Both of them are still just learning the position and getting more comfortable.”
LEFT FOR DEAD
It’s not his debut, but it’ll likely more special than the first time Jarrett Grace cracked pads for the blue and gold.
A whopping 23 months to the day since he suffered a catastrophic leg injury on the Cowboys Stadium turf (Oct. 5, 2015), Grace – then a junior, now a Notre Dame graduate – will rush the field of play, fully healed and ready to roll.
“I just didn’t know whether Jarrett was ever going to play football again because of the severity of the injury,” said Kelly. “I’ve probably been in his hospital room more than any one player that I coached. I can say that first hand, there were doubts in my mind – after leaving him with no doubt that he would play – I doubted myself that he would ever play again.
“That’s going to be great to see him play. He’s on our kickoff team, so we’re going to see him right away running down the field.”
Also returning to the fray after an extended absence is senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell.
“I’m probably going to look up to the sky and just thank the Lord,” said Russell of his plans prior to his first tunnel emergence since suspension for academic dishonesty last August. “It’s really time to go. The adrenaline is going to rush more than it’s ever been…it might shock me. I’ll have to relax myself, not get myself bigger than the game.
“I already know once I hear the fans – you know they’re going to be just as excited, too. Personally, I think they respect me enough that there won’t be, not really a standing ovation, but maybe some cheers to welcome me back... …and they know this is a special team. They also know how special this team can be.”
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Asked who among his troops he’s most interested in watching Saturday night, be it a freshman or newcomer to a given role, Kelly instead offered the obvious – and most relevant snap-to-snap.
“I still think it comes back to the quarterback. Eyes will be centered on the quarterback play, and as much as we’d like to say Malik (Zaire) is a veteran, he’s not. He (started) one game for us last year and he didn’t play the whole game. So Malik is going to have his moments where he’s got to settle into the game,” said Kelly.
“Emotion versus enthusiasm is big for him. He can be emotional at times and we have to transfer that into being enthusiastic. As I told him, you don’t have to be the reason why we won; you just can’t be the reason why we lost.
“You’ve got 10 other guys around you that are really good playmakers. Get the ball to them, get us in the right play, and if he does that, he’s going to do very well for us.”
WHICH GROUP WILL HE JOIN?
Winners among Irish quarterbacks making their home starting debut over the last 30 seasons include a mixed bag of program standouts, legends, transfers, and career backups.
They are: Everett Golson (Purdue), Tommy Rees (Utah), Dayne Crist (Purdue), Pat Dillingham (Stanford), Carlysle Holiday (Pittsburgh), Matt Lovecchio (Stanford), Gary Godsey (Purdue), Arnaz Battle (Texas A&M), Jarious Jackson (Kansas), Tom Krug (Air Force), Kevin McDougal (Northwestern), Paul Failla (USC), Rick Mirer (Michigan), Kent Graham (Boston College), Tony Rice (USC), and Terry Andrysiak (Missouri).
The list of triggermen that lost their first home start in the 30 seasons preceding Saturday’s kickoff is small though not insignificant: program luminaries Jimmy Clausen (Michigan State), Brady Quinn (USC), and Ron Powlus (Michigan), plus future transfer Demetrius Jones (Georgia Tech), and current team beat writer Evan Sharpley (USC).