Abiamiri and Zbikowski See Big Things in 2005

At 6 A.M. while most of the South Bend area was sound asleep, a loud, blaring horn woke up the Notre Dame football players. It was a signal to get up. It was also a signal that it's time to go to work on a new season.

"Actually, I'm kind of an early bird and I woke up before the horn," junior defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. "I'm sure that'll be happening all throughout camp. But it's camp. You have to get use to it."

Head coach Charlie Weis and his staff used the horn to awaken the players to the fall preseason camp of 2005. After stretching at 6:15 AM, the players were run through a rigorous conditioning drill to gauge their fitness level. The off-season conditioning, led by strength and conditioning coach Ruben Mendoza, seemed to have paid dividends.

"It was excellent," Abiamiri said when talking of the sweat him and his teammates shed in the summer. "We got a lot of good work done. That's what you need to do if you want to be a good football team. It's just another stepping stone. We're not there yet but hopefully we will be by September 3rd."

He wasn't the only one who was satisfied with the work put in during the off-season. Junior safety Tom Zbikowski said conditioning and getting into the right mental frame were his top priorities this summer. Zbikowski, who started all 12 games last year and was fourth on the team in tackles (70), also wants to get the Irish back to its winning ways.

"The fact is we were 6-6 last year and that's not what we wanted," Zbikowski said, who is sporting a buzz cut instead of his usual long flowing hair. "There is that bad taste in your mouth but you want to get it out as soon as possible. "It's tough because there is talent on this team. Expectations need to be a lot higher. People talk about national champions each year and I think that's what it needs to be."

One area of improvement the Irish need is in the secondary, where teams torched Notre Dame to the tune of 281 yards per game and 23 touchdowns. With the loss of Freddie Parish to transfer, it slims down the options to stop the bleeding. Abiamiri hopes his defensive line, with an increased pass rush, can pick some of the slack up.

"I think one thing we're working on is playing more as a team," Abiamiri said. "If one group does bad, it's all our responsibility. We're not pointing any fingers. We all are working together to stop the run and the pass in any stage of the game."

The secondary is a young group that will have to learn on the run and fast if this Irish team has dreams of winning. Zbikowski, who along with Abiamiri was voted on the Leadership Committee by his teammates, knows the guys are looking up to him.

"They are just going to have to learn the pace that they play at," Zbikowski said. "I think the confidence will come along with plays that they make. We have to get them ready. It's pretty much me and Mike (Richardson) as experienced players. We have to take leadership roles this year and we can't be showing it to the other guys. When you get new coaches you have to prove yourself all over again. I think everyone is out to prove themselves."

Another theme that permeated throughout Media Day was the experience of the coaching staff assembled by Coach Weis. Many have had experience at the NFL level. The professionalism and focus of the assistant coaches have rubbed off onto the players and they like what they see.

"The biggest thing is their NFL experience," Zbikowski said, whose position coach is Bill Lewis. Lewis was the defensive backs coach with the Miami Dolphins the past nine years. In six of the last seven years, the Dolphins have finished in the top eight in pass defense. "We're treated like men. There are very little rules but if you cross them, you are going to pay the price. Everyone is in line and ready to go."

Abiamiri's position coach in the defensive line is Jappy Oliver. Oliver has spent the last two years at South Carolina coaching the defensive line unit, where coincidentally, defensive coordinator Rick Minter also happened to be in 2003. These two knowledgeable football minds will try to guide their players to a successful football season.

"They've coached a lot of football in their time," Abiamiri said. "They've seen a lot of defenses and been through a lot. We need to trust them. They know what they are doing. We need to buy into their system. Whatever they do, they just want to win games."

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