Freshman defensive back Junior Jabbie will have the opportunity to see a lot of playing time in 2005 as three of Notre Dame's top corners will exhaust their eligibility at the end of the season.
Jabbie and a number of his freshman teammates will have to grow up quickly because at least some of them will be called upon to play considerable minutes for the Irish next season at cornerback.
We spoke with the Parlin, N.J. native to see how he's adapting to college football and when asked about the biggest challenge from high school to college ball, without hesitating he said, "The playbook. It is so big and there is so much to learn. When I first saw it, I said wow. I didn't think there was actually that much you could do like the check-offs on defense. And that has been my biggest adjustment."
Adapting to a college schedule has also been a little different for the rookie.
"Waking up early all the time and going to weightlifting at six o'clock in the morning has been different," he stated. "But the classes have been going all right and are not too hard for me because I have been doing my work. The school I went to before prepared me very well for the work I'm doing here."
Jabbie said he set goals in fall camp and said his freshman season has gone just about as he envisioned it.
"I came in here with the goal of working hard and being prepared the best I could," said Jabbie. "So far it has been working out all right. I wasn't expecting to play, but I would like to have played but wasn't expecting it.
"I was just going to try to work my best and if the coaches thought I was ready to play, I was going to be ready. I'm not disappointed because this year has just helped me out. It has helped me learn the plays, helped me get stronger and faster, and adjust to speed. So this has been a big preparing year for me."
The former high school tailback says he misses not having the ball in his hands on the offensive side of the ball, but he's getting used to his new position.
"I miss it a lot," Jabbie said. "Sometimes I will go weeks without touching the football, and I go like ‘man, I just want to carry the ball one time, catch a pass, or something like that.' But I like playing corner and trying to get better at it."
Jabbie feels he also might get his shot to touch the football on special teams in the future.
"I'm just going to keep working. Right now I'm practicing returning kickoffs and punt returns so maybe if I keep working and get better there will be a chance," he said.
The freshman corner says he knows he has areas to work on but believes he ‘s making progress and is hoping that will translate to time of the field.
"I pretty much need to improve on everything," he said. "It doesn't hurt to get better in anything, and I'm just going to try improving on every aspect they ask for. At first I was down because I was thinking I don't know what is going on and thought I'd adjust more quickly.
"But everybody keeps giving me talks and saying, 'don't get down on yourself because we all have been through the same thing.' Your first year is going to be hard and a lot of people red-shirt their freshman year and it helps them out so much. I've talked to a lot of people like Tommy [Zbikowski] and he said red-shirting helped him out a lot and now he is the starting safety.
Jabbie also said the veterans in the secondary have been a great help in learning his new position.
"By watching other players, especially the older guys, you learn things," Jabbie said. "And when the coaches aren't able to get to you and give you one-on-one attention, one of the veterans will tell and show you what to work on."
"I think I've come a long way from the beginning of camp. I've gotten in a lot better shape, my speed is better, and I'm able to cover the guys so I think I'm improving."
The New Jersey native said he has his sights sets on one of the starting corner positions next season.
"I'm going to keep working hard in the weight room and watch a lot of film in the off season and do everything I can to prepare myself for one of those spots," Jabbie said. "Being ready for spring ball will be a major part of my plan."
Jabbie has also seen the criticism many of the defensive backs have taken this season and said some of the criticism isn't warranted.
"I think a lot of people are too harsh," he said. "I think being a DB is the hardest position on the field because you have to be one of the best athletes. It is a tough position and the people need to give us some slack because we are trying our hardest and doing everything we are asked to do."
When asked if he was still happy with his choice of coming to Notre Dame, Junior didn't hesitate to respond, "Yes, definitely."
The competition for secondary positions should be intense in spring ball and fall camp. Jabbie has been a guy that has been singled out recently by Irish coaches as a guy who's been playing well. Keep an eye on this talented player because you might be seeing a lot of him in the future.