‘Eyes lit up’ for Werner

INDIANAPOLIS – Cathedral head coach Rick Streiff spoke with Irish Illustrated about linebacker commit Pete Werner’s background in football, skills on the gridiron and decision to choose Notre Dame.

INDIANAPOLIS – Rick Streiff owns a 206-55 record in 21 years at Cathedral.

In those two decades, he’s led the Indianapolis powerhouse to the most wins of any high school in the state to go with 12 Indiana titles. The last five state championships came in three different class divisions.

In other words, Streiff understands winning and he understands talent. He spoke with Irish Illustrated on Tuesday about his star linebacker Pete Werner, who committed to Notre Dame on Monday. 

Anna Hickey: Pete transferred into Cathedral last year. How did you come to find out that you were getting a good football player?

Rick Streiff: We knew about Pete probably last May when his family came over to look at the transfer process. He went to a camp at the first of June at Wisconsin, hurt his hip, so he didn’t work out all summer.

So really his first day of practice, the first day we saw him run around, was the first day of real practice in the summer. 

AH: What was the motive behind the transfer?

Streiff: There was the education part of it. Getting into some of the international baccalaureate stuff that we have here, some of the classes here that I don’t think Mt. Vernon offered. So it was an academic transfer.

AH: What were your first thoughts on Pete as a player?

Streiff: Good-looking kid. Looks the part. Was probably 205 pounds. I’ve done this long enough to know that when a transfer comes in, he’s leaving for some reason, he’s not happy where he was, so you don’t know what baggage he comes in with. But he looked the part. The running joke was he was first-team all-bus for me.

Week one he played a little bit. Week two we played down at Moeller, and he played some in the first half at Will linebacker and played well, but he didn’t play much in the second half. We kind of sat down during the weekend and said, OK, we’ve got to figure out a way to get him on the field more.

We decided to try him at corner, which is really our two-deep safety. Pete just made play after play after play, and it became obvious that Pete was much better than the kid he had replaced. And the rest, as they say, is history.

AH: What makes Pete the coveted linebacker that he is, and where do you project him on the field as a senior?

Streiff: He pursues. He has a relentless pursuit. He runs and makes plays. He does his job and then runs to the ball, which is what we really try to preach around here.

Well, that’s still up for debate but if I had my druthers, and I’ll still listen to my defensive coordinator, but I would put him down with my linebackers, and he’ll probably play the Sam. He’s big enough now.

AH: Werner doesn’t strike me as a really vocal kid in the locker room, but he seems like someone his peers and teammates naturally gravitate toward. How would you assess his demeanor off the field?

Streiff: Exactly. He’s really, really quiet. A little bit of it is his nature. And some of it was he was feeling out the process. He knew kids going to school here already, so there was a comfort zone when he first came here, but he is also a guy that was going to go about his business and earn the respect of people by doing what he was supposed to do rather than talking about it.

He’ll be one of those quiet leaders for us next year. He naturally kind of takes over things. He’s a very smart player. As a matter of fact, we could move him to linebacker in the middle of the game. He knew what he was supposed to do, knew the scouting report and knew the things we were asking him to do there, plus his corner spot.

He came to us knowing the free safety spot well, so he understood the responsibilities of the secondary so that molded him pretty well. He’s also a guy that picks up stuff pretty quickly. I would say we try to keep things really simple. Give them two reads and let them go play ball.

AH: His recruitment skyrocketed this spring. How involved were you in that process?

Streiff: We chatted about his options. It’s exploded. He started getting a couple offers at the end of the season and started taking some visits. I think playing with us helped his exposure. Just one after another and then his film just gets out, so it’s pretty easy to get picked up if you’re good.

I didn’t talk to everybody that offered him, which is interesting to me. Ole Miss offered, Cal-Berkeley offered, just out of the blue. So I don’t necessarily know where those guys get their information or even how hard or soft those offers are.

When we got Pete and Notre Dame together to make the phone call, he talked to coach (Mike) Elston and then right to coach (Brian) Kelly. So I told him, when you get the offer from the big dog, you’re up on the food chain.

I had sent them an e-mail and said just take a quick look at this kid and tell me what you think. And they were almost like, why didn’t you tell us about him last spring? And, well, I didn’t know about him last spring. He was an unknown commodity to us as well.

It was very interesting because a couple of weeks before they started showing interest, I asked him about Notre Dame, and he kind of shrugged his shoulders. But then he talked to the coaches, and you could see his eyes kind of lit up because a.) It’s got the academic things that Mom and Dad and he are interested in and then b.) Obviously the football side of things.

AH: What’s the growth been like from your point of view of developing college football players in Indiana?

Streiff: It’s changed a lot in the past decade. I used to only have a Division I player every few classes or so.

The coaching has gotten better in the state, and the Colts have helped a lot, Peyton Manning’s presence. You have these kids that are 6-foot-5 and could have played small forward at a mid-major that are instead looking at football as something that can contribute to their future. So football has definitely gotten more popular.

We’ve had kids go up and play in the past for coach (Lou) Holtz. We had Brian Ford that was a punter and kicker for them in the early 90’s.

There are Indiana kids on (Notre Dame’s) roster, but they’re typically a really good Indiana kid.

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