It doesn’t feel like it did his first year in the program when the Irish closed the campaign on the West Coast in 2012, or in each of the last two seasons when he played against USC – the school he selected coming out of King’s Academy in Santa Clara, Calif.
There’s been plenty of water under the bridge since then. The emotions have leveled off. The last hurrahs as a college football player rapidly are approaching.
Amir Carlisle was once a Trojan, came to Notre Dame when his father transitioned jobs from the San Francisco 49ers to the Purdue Boilermakers, and now gets one more crack at the program he admired when the “Bush Push” helped catapult USC to a legendary victory over Notre Dame in 2005.
“The previous history, I don’t focus on it,” said the soft-spoken Carlisle as his voice is drowned out by the not-so-soft-spoken KeiVarae Russell about 50 feet away. “It’s the next game on our schedule.
“The first time I played (against USC), there were a lot of guys I knew on the team. I’m just focused on the importance of doing what I have to do. It’s a big game for us. To keep our playoff hopes alive, we have to win the next game.”
Even if it were a big deal to Carlisle to get one more crack at the Trojans, he likely wouldn’t let on. Deeply religious and full of thought, the ups and downs of life are less than speed bumps and accepted with a peace of mind.
Notre Dame’s leading rusher in each of its first two games of the 2013 season? A blessing.
Moved from running back to slot receiver? Part of God’s plan.
Excelling at his newfound position? A beneficiary of great coaching.
Losing reps to C.J. Prosise and then Torii Hunter, Jr.? A challenge to his faith.
Winning the kick return job? An opportunity to help his team.
Losing the kick return job to a freshman? A challenge to be ready when opportunity knocks again.
Nothing keeps Amir Carlisle down.
Quietly – which befits his personality and nature – Carlisle enters the USC game third on the team in receptions with 16 for 161 yards. He had strong performances against Texas (five catches, 55 yards) and UMass (five catches, 52 yards), and a key 20-yard reception on 3rd-and-16 in Notre Dame’s come-from-behind challenge of Clemson.
Carlisle blends in to the woodwork because that’s the way he likes it. His interview this week with the media was his first since last season. He stands out when there’s an opening down the seam of the football field, and even then, he’s among the last on a long list when Notre Dame’s offensive firepower is considered.
“I like playing receiver,” Carlisle said. “Operating in space. I’m still learning the nuances, but I’m definitely more comfortable with it now and I really enjoy it.
“I’m just trying to expand the route tree for us at the Z position and be the reliable person to make a tough catch over the middle or make somebody miss in space and get a first down. My role is whatever Coach (Brian) Kelly and Coach (Mike) Denbrock entrust me to do.”
Kelly arranged the move from running back to slot receiver when the Irish head coach wasn’t convinced that the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder (now 10 pounds heavier) had the physical characteristics of a between-the-tackles runner. An injury kept him off the field in 2012. He played through a collarbone injury the following spring.
But the move from running back to receiver began to play off in the fall of 2013. He netted 23 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns as a red-shirt junior while becoming Notre Dame’s lead kick return man (35 returns, a 21.7-yard average and a long of 47).
His two touchdown receptions against Michigan in the second game of the ’14 season propelled the Irish to a 31-0 victory over the Wolverines. He added three catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in the frantic comeback at Arizona State.
The emergence of Hunter in the slot and freshman C.J. Sanders as a kick-return option this fall once again have cut into Carlisle’s opportunities, despite what appeared to be a position-loosening move of C.J. Prosise to running back.
Nothing fazes the team-first Carlisle.
“Competition is a great thing,” Carlisle said. “That’s the reason you come to Notre Dame: to be pushed and to challenge your skill set. When you have great players around you, it pushes you to challenge yourself to be a better player.
“We have a lot of explosive guys. The offense is starting to get its groove and we’re on the same page. When you have a lot of explosive guys and a lot of playmakers and you’re on the same page, you see success. We definitely have the firepower to put up points.”
Carlisle seems destined to finish his stint at Notre Dame as a complementary piece to an expanding puzzle. If the job description suddenly increases, it won’t catch Carlisle off-guard. He’s always prepared for change, just as he was when he made the unusual decision to transfer from USC to Notre Dame.
“I was definitely (a USC fan) during the Reggie Bush days,” Carlisle said. “It was weird going from there to here with the whole rivalry. But thank God for the opportunity.
“My attitude is to just stay prepared and ready for my opportunity. If there’s another one, I’ll try to make a play for my team. Just play. Just go out there and play.”