"It's like a field type backer," Apache linebacker Anthony Vernaglia said. "The guy does not have to quite as beefy as the inside two on the other side. We are a little smaller and more of like a quick pass coverage guy but who can still cover the run and take on fullbacks and lineman. It's like a bigger strong safety."
Vernaglia said he did not have to spend all day eating tons of food in the dining hall to pack on the pounds. The sophomore from Anaheim Hills, California was originally a safety when he arrived at Notre Dame and the recommended weight for the two spots is roughly the same. Vernaglia was not surprised one bit by the position switch.
"I thought at some point it would happen," Vernaglia said on a possible switch during his time with the Irish. "I thought if I played good at the safety position, it would be a longer down the road. But, in hindsight, it's better to have it happen early because I stay with this position, learn it and protect it."
Head coach Charlie Weis has repeatedly said that no position is set in stone. This increases the competition level between the players for minutes on the field. Weis compared the philosophy to the financial fluctuations of Wall Street.
"It's like the stock market," Weis said. "We look at a player and we say ‘buy, buy' or ‘sell, sell' as their value is going up or down. Not to be dehumanizing but that's how it is."
Vernaglia feels that the eyes of coaching staff are on everyone as fall camp progresses.
"It's been turned up a lot," he said about the intensity level in practice. "You're being watched all the time. You have to be on top of your game. Nothing is really written in stone. There is a lot in common in the linebacker core."
Sophomore Maurice Crum, Jr. appears to be the starter for now at Apache. Vernaglia is right behind him but joins a linebacker core that is deep with experience. Fifth-year senior Corey Mays is slotted in at the middle spot while defensive captain Brandon Hoyte occupies the weak side spot. Vernaglia is appreciative of the efforts Hoyte is making to ease the position switch transition.
"He knows the position inside and out," Vernaglia said. "When Hoyte and I are both not in, he helps me out with little stuff that I don't know coming from the secondary. An example is reading the line and little steps you are supposed to take. It's been real helpful. He's a great leader. He's trying to pass the knowledge on. He's trying to make sure the team isn't good just when he's here but the younger guys carry on the tradition."
This season will be the first time Vernaglia will see action. Last season, he did not see any playing time as a reserve safety after coming out of high school rated as one of ESPN.com's top 100 players nationally. As the Irish fought their way to a 6-6 record in 2004, is was tough for Vernaglia to sit back and watch.
"It was horrible," Vernaglia said. "You sit there at practice sometimes and it hurts a little bit. You just feel useless. When you're not playing in the games and you watch it going on, you feel helpless. I couldn't do anything to stop what was going on."
The Apache linebacker will make another switch this season: from number 42 to number four. This change was explained in simple terms. Vernaglia hates double-digit numbers. Running back Darius Walker snatched up his first choice so he looked towards family for guidance.
"Four has not been my number," Vernaglia said. "Actually, I can't stand non-single digit numbers. I use to be three and that wasn't available. My sister has always been a big fan of four so I saw that and took that."