Free safety Quentin Burrell found himself in an unfamiliar starting role in early 2003 as he replaced the injured Glenn Earl in the Purdue game. The Decatur, Ga. native ended up starting the final nine games and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 58. The sociology and computer applications major also led the team in interceptions with four.
With three interceptions in the final three games, and a fumble return for 65 yards against Stanford, the 6-0, 195-pound ball-hawk started to make a name for himself as a true playmaker.
"It all started to come together at the end," said Burrell of his play at the end of the season. "It just felt like things slowed down and I could focus on my responsibilities instead of wondering if what I thought was right. When that happens, you can make plays."
Burrell certainly made a number of big plays at the end of 2003, but he's going to need some help to make that happen again this season.
The Irish secondary is going to have to grow up quickly considering the number of passing teams they'll be facing this season. Burrell believes there will be plenty of competition this fall to bring out the best in the secondary.
"I think it started this summer with a lot of our drills based on competition, and it also has to come from within," the former Georgia All-State player said. "I know last year, I took it upon myself to become a starter and to do whatever I had to do to get on the field. It all comes from recognizing the commitment it takes to play at this level."
As the player with the second-most experience in the secondary, Burrell realizes that the young and inexperienced secondary will be looking to him for leadership. Burrell says he's not the type of guy to do a lot of yelling.
"I think the main thing is lead by the example," the great-grandson of former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson said of how he'll lead the secondary. "Giving them tidbits on how to do things because we have been there, we've played out on the field. We'll just try to help them out and lead by example.
"I've never really been a real vocal person. I'll leave that to Mike Goolsby and all of them. I've always been a one-on-one type of person—try and help you out on the side. I've always been kind of laid back and I try to lead by example."
Notre Dame defensive backs also understand that they are considered the Achilles heel of the Irish defense according to Burrell—a moniker that is just fine with the Irish secondary.
"We use it as motivation—especially a guy like me," Burrell said. "A lot people have questions about the outside, but I know we have a good secondary and I know what we can do. I think a lot of people will be surprised come game time.
"I think a lot of guys have taken it personally as we've got to step up, especially the secondary. It's do or die in the secondary, so it's going to have to come from within."
Unfortunately for Burrell, he's been bit by the injury bug most of his career. After recovering from a shoulder injury this spring, he's found himself nicked up again heading into fall practice again this fall.
"I feel fine, my shoulders are in tact," Burrell said. "I suffered a little knee injury a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if they'll let me practice today, but I feel fine"
"I sprained my knee three weeks ago in seven-on-seven. As far as everything else, I feel fine."
Burrell is used to playing with the nagging injuries, however, and he says it will be business as usual heading into spring.
"I just think things happen for a reason. I'll just use it as motivation," Burrell said.
Burrell will be pushed for his starting position this fall by emerging star and sophomore, Tommy Zbikowski, who was probably the most praised member of the secondary by Irish coaches during spring practice.
Burrell, in his own right, was an emerging star at free safety the last time we saw him on the field. The competition at free safety is a classic example of two stars making the other better. The Irish could certainly use this type of competition at every position.