Derek Landri reported to Notre Dame in the summer of 2002 with a ton of expectations and recovering from a leg injury suffered over the summer. The injury hindered his development as a freshman, as did the shoulder injury he'd suffer later. It seemed Landri was snake-bit and would never realize his potential. The Concord, Calif. native says all of that is behind him now.
"Little by little my strength is getting back there," Landri said.
"There were so many phases I went through," said Landri of his rehabs "Not training you lose a step or two but things are starting to come back a little bit so I am starting to feel like I used to."
Just keeping the weight to play along the defensive line has been a struggle for Landri because he had been limited in what he could do while lifting. "It's not too bad. I'm up and down, up to 285 and down to 270. I put it on pretty solid so I am happy with that, it wasn't just flabby weight."
Landri says he just wants to play to the level he's accustomed to playing at. "I just want to get out there and play again, at least at a level that is somewhat acceptable for college football. You are always going to play a little hurt but still you just get out there and play."
Is Landri 100 percent healthy? "Yeah, I am really close. It feels good just to get out there as close as you can be to healthy and play to the ability you know you can play to. That is a great feeling for me considering all I went through."
Still, Landri is listed at just 281 pounds. We asked Landri if not being a 300-pounder inside would hinder his ability to take the pounding inside. "Even in high school against certain teams I wasn't the biggest guy. I'm never really worried about that because like Coach Mattison says, quickness is just as big an asset as height and weight so my lacking in height and weight I make up in quickness and leverage."
The ability to just play has been something that has been Landri's mind all spring. "Even when we don't scrimmage you still think about football all day. Even in classes you wander off and are thinking about practice. Of course when you get to scrimmage you get a little more excited, but through the week you are excited. The scrimmages you do get a little more excited about, tackling people and hitting."
The Irish will lose Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell inside. Landri is in pole position to take over for Hilliard with Greg Pauly set to take over for Campbell. We asked Landri if this group could be as good if not better than last year. "We've got a good group, we got a lot of young guys and a couple of old guys – Kyle (Budinscak), (Justin) Tuck and (Greg) Pauly. I think we are bonding well, I am enjoying it and I think the other guys are enjoying it too, especially as we don't have that big of a group so we're pretty tight."
The coaches and Landri are likely getting a look at the future along the defensive line with Justin Tuck, Brian Beidatsch and Kyle Budinscak sitting out of practice right now. Players like Landri, Trevor Laws, Victor Abiamiri, Chris Frome and Travis Leitko are getting plenty of valuable reps this spring.
We asked Landri if the young guys have been impressive. "Yes, we have got a lot of different abilities on the D-line, a lot of different guys who can do a lot of different things. Quickness and speed, we've got a lot of that and we've got a lot of bull-rush type of players for penetrating and things like that. We've got a lot of versatility on the D-line."
We also asked Landri what he hoped to accomplish this spring. "Right now it's just everything that I can do, everything that's asked of you and just learn and improve. This is about learning those defenses and doing all that stuff, getting the most reps. Right now we don't have too many guys so we are getting a lot of reps which I thing is the best thing."
So what does defensive line coach Greg Mattison want Landri to improve on? "Everything, he loves getting on us. The big thing this year is running to the ball, which is every year but there is a little more exclamation on that this year. Right now one of my weaknesses is getting a little high so they've been grinding on me about that."
I can't remember seeing Landri smile this much, ever. I'll never forget seeing Landri run around the practice field during fall camp of his freshman year. He looked like a defeated man as he jogged around the field. The competitor in him wanted to be on the field--that was obvious. That competitive desire should show up on the field in 2004, and Landri should finally realize his potential for the Irish.