Gardner says the change from running back to corner has been the most difficult. "The way you sort of move, stand, your technique, everything - the technique is the hardest part. Knowing your keys and everything. I haven't seriously played cornerback since middle school, and that was nothing since you just stand there basically and they call you a DB."
In high school, Isaiah relied on his speed to run over and around players, and we asked him how his speed compares with the Irish receivers. "The speed of our receivers is good. I'm pretty fast so I can stay with them, but a lot of times I get beat when I read the wrong key or just mess up. As long as I get my technique down and read what I'm supposed to read, then I'll be okay." When asked which receiver was hardest to cover, Gardner replied quickly, "Omar. Omar is extremely smooth. He runs precise routes that are real pretty and it is hard to tell what he is doing. He is real good with his routes - it's crazy."
All young players rely on veterans to help them to understand and learn their position and Gardner said he has received the most help from another player who understands what he's going through. "Vontez has helped me a whole lot; also Carlos Campbell, Preston Jackson, Dwight Ellick. They're always in my ear trying to help me out - especially Vontez because he came from the same thing that I did because he was a running back in high school and then was switched to corner. He knows exactly where I am coming from so he's always telling me the right thing to do so it's up to me to take it in and do it."
We asked Gardner about what skills he has that will make him a good cornerback and he stated, "Speed, my quickness, and jumping ability." And he continued by saying his weakest areas are "my techniques. That's the hardest thing. A corner has to learn so much. It's like, wow. As a running back all you had to do was find the hole, just run and score. I was used to doing that, but now you have to be patient and you've got to read everything and stop the pass. This is kind of reversed for me - everything is reversed. You have to slow down and you can't run full speed all the time."
Another big adjustment for Gardner has been the adjustment from living in Virginia Beach to Notre Dame and South Bend. "It has been a big transition for me," said Gardner laughingly. "I used to live in Detroit - that's where I'm originally from and that's a real big city. And then we moved to Virginia which is pretty big, busy, and a lot of things to do. Like here it is like a real small town. There is rarely anything to do. It's a real big change. I've never been in an environment like this before."
With his answer about the transition to Notre Dame, we were curious why he choose the Irish when he could have gone to a big-time program with a larger population. "I wanted the all-around things, the academics, the football. Notre Dame has all of that. Coach Willingham played a real big part because I wanted to play for him. I wanted to win and play for a great coach."
Irish Eyes asked Isaiah to rate his Notre Dame experience based on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest He smiled as he said, "Football would be a 10. The academics are hard - at Notre Dame you have to step it up. It would be about a 6 or 7. The whole experience would be about an 8."
All freshmen come in with the hope of getting on the field early, but in most cases their playing time is in the future. We asked Isaiah if the coaches are talking with him about his potential. "They always tell me they like my future. I just need to get my technique down. Coach Walters is always telling me I've got a chance to come in and start next year, so I just have to step it up." We followed this up by asking if his goal was to be in the starting rotation next year, and he very determinedly stated, "Yes, I'm going to be there."
This young player was easy to talk with, and he seemed to enjoy the experience. He has a determination and a toughness that should help in reaching his goal of being in the starting defensive rotation in the near future.