"I'm the strongest and quickest since I've been at Notre Dame," Derek Curry said of his off-season conditioning. "In the testing we did, I went beyond what I thought I could do. So I'm really excited about what I did personally and the things I accomplished. The team worked really hard this summer, and we had a lot of competition this summer against positions and against each other and we've done some great things."
Curry will likely line up as a three-year starter for the Irish on September 4th as the Irish kick off their season against BYU. The Sealy, Texas linebacker finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles last season, and also chipped in 4.5 sacks. Curry's experience at linebacker already makes him a valuable leader.
"I lead by example," Curry said. "Consistency is my biggest thing and I am going to try and lead by consistency. Play-in and play-out - I'm going to play as hard as I can.
"Being a big playmaker for the team is one of the things I really want to do. It's one of my personal goals as well as being there for the guys, especially the young guys. It's not just about playing, it's also about helping the younger guys come along and develop them as well. So, it's not just about me or the guys that start, it's about developing our defensive team as a whole."
The return of middle linebacker Mike Goolsby is another thing that excites the three-time monogram winner. Curry says Goolsby will bring a lot of fire to the defense.
"It's huge," Curry said of Goolsby's return. "He's a lot like myself. We really have a lot in common. He brings a lot of attitude and toughness back into the defensive corps and that's one thing I like, that he's bringing back something that I have, and Brandon has as well."
We asked Derek if he could pick a player that might surprise at linebacker this season.
"Probably Corey Mays - you haven't seen him a lot," Curry said. "He has a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of potential. Everybody knows Brandon (Hoyte) can play; everybody knows Goolsby can play, and myself, but I think Corey Mays is going to be the guy who steps up for us really big and steps in and plays like he really needs to play."
Curry gives credit to God for all his success while at Notre Dame. He says God is his main motivation for playing each day.
"Just the ability to be able to play football. The God-given ability is enough to motivate me each and every day," Curry said of what motivates him. "The fact that I know that God has given me this gift to play, and he wants me to be motivated day-in and day-out. It's not about anything else other than God giving me this ability."
With BYU on the horizon, Curry says the Irish need to focus on that game, solely. A victory against the Cougars should set the tone for the rest of the season.
"It's going to be huge," Curry said of the BYU game. "A lot happens after the first game. The first game definitely sets the tone for how the rest of the season will go. It's not a make-or-break by any means, but it definitely will tell the course for the rest of the season. I think it's huge that we go out and play good against BYU and play hard and win the game. That will be huge going into the rest of the season."
Curry has always spoken and played with a lot of confidence, and he should be a standout leader on the defense this season. His leadership should help develop the inexperience at other positions, and his attitude should be contagious for the Irish in 2004.
We also had a chance to get a couple of quotes from linebacker coach Bob Simmons after practice.
We asked Simmons what he expects to see from his linebackers this season.
"When you have an experienced group, you still want to keep things as simple as possible," Simmons said. "The fact that we have Mike Goolsby back, and Derek Curry, who is flexible in all of your packages, and Brandon Hoyte, who has made big strides, and Corey Mays - the flexibility he gives you is the ability to move people around and just gives you the opportunity to get your best guys on the field.
"Because you have that experience, now you can obviously take a Goolsby and play him in another position if someone gets hurt, or take a Derek Curry, who has played both inside and outside, so that's the experience factor it gives you, having all those guys know at least two or three positions."
We also asked Simmons if he felt any of the younger linebackers might make an impact this season.
"I'm hoping all of them," Simmons said. "Based on what I have seen, the fruits of their labor from this summer, Mitchell Thomas, Nick Borseti, and Joe Brockington have done some good things, but they still have to continue to improve -- but it wasn't like when we left for the summer.
"When we left, I was shaking my head and saying, uh oh. I asked them to do some things in the summer and I told them, you cannot look the same when you get back here and you can't act the same. You can't be a freshman when you walk back onto the Notre Dame campus. And they have taken that challenge."
The Irish are going have to hope that the younger linebackers do step up because many of them will be counted on the following season.