It's a lot of fun watching football. If it wasn't, none of you would be reading this article and I would be out of a job.
But beyond the intense action played on the gridiron in Notre Dame Stadium and across the country there is the countless hours of training that anyone rarely sees outside of the football players and coaches themselves.
Fortunately for me that is not the case with James Aldridge, TB, 6-2, 214-pounds, Crown Point, Ind., (Merrillville). The Notre Dame commitment lives within driving distance so I decided to check out his now infamous "Dunes" workout. It did not disappoint.
Aldridge opens the weight room around 5 am even before his coaches arrive. After an extensive workout he runs with his teammates. Today was a little rougher than usual.
"We ran for fifteen minutes," Aldridge commented. "But it was all sprints!"
Then it was off to the Dunes located on Lake Michigan in Miller, Ind.
"I don't think you could make it up the hill one time," Aldridge said to me point blank. While I beg to differ, holding the camera was enough for this day. (And yes, just making it up and down the hill without falling down is quite the task)
The Dunes are nothing more than hills of loose sand that will make any workout become extreme with just one attempt. After watching Aldridge and three of his teammates race up and down the two hills just twice it was clear just how difficult it was.
Of course I had to up the ante by telling Aldridge he should do high-knees and sprints in Lake Michigan. I didn't honestly think he'd do it considering how much he had done already this morning. I was wrong.
Having shot footage of Aldridge in the water is a good thing. You see there is no real way to explain how natural an athlete he is unless you see it for yourself. And there is no doubting how explosive and quick Aldridge is just by watching his highlight video; but Aldridge is even more impressive running sprints in the water at speeds most people could not do on dry land.
The one piece of bad news I have from this whole experience is that Notre Dame fans are not going to like the name Mike Neal over the course of the next four or five years. He graduated from Merrillville High School this year and will be playing along the defensive line for the Boilermakers. He's ripped up at roughly 6-4, 250-pounds. And he can run. He stayed with Aldridge during a race for about 20 yards despite giving up 35 pounds in weight.
After leaving the Dunes James sat down with me to answer a few questions.
What are your freshman goals at Notre Dame?
"To actually get a decent amount of carries…rush for a 1,000 yards. Just make a statement."
How long do think it will take you to crack the starting lineup if you are planning to rush for 1,000 yards your freshman season?
First game, you think you can crack the starting lineup in your first game?
"After the first game. After I get a few carries the first game."
Why did you choose Notre Dame?
"I kind of asked myself…where would I want to get an education if I didn't play football. Notre Dame was the answer…plus, you know, playing football at Notre Dame is like a benefit. Plus all the academics and education so you know…"
What other recruits would you like to see Notre Dame sign and why?
And why do you want those guys?
"They just seem like they should be Irish!"
I cut the interview short because Aldridge wanted to rest before going back to the gym to workout at 4 pm using elastic bands to pull him back while running. True dedication.
SMITTY'S TAKE - It was a good time watching Aldridge work out and then talking a little football. I am already looking forward to my return trip to see Aldridge play this fall.
Aldridge really wants to play with other great players so he is truly interested in the other recruits that Notre Dame signs. He is of course most interested in the offensive linemen and always asks me about the recruitment of players such as Young, Webb, Carufel, Daron Rose and Stewart just to name a few.
Aldridge is also fully aware that football is not just about running the football. He always asks me about Ausberry, Richard Jackson and practically every other recruit offered by head coach Charlie Weis. Aldridge wants to win.