Sending the Seniors Out the Right Way

Notre Dame [7-2] will be playing its fifth consecutive home game when they entertain Syracuse [1-8] Saturday with kickoff slated for 2:38 pm South Bend time. This will be the fifth meeting between the Irish and the Orange with the series tied at 2-2. Syracuse has won the last two meetings, having won the most recent game 38-12 in 2003.

Notre Dame's scoring machine is closing in on several school records. The Irish have scored 40 points six times, matching the school record from 1991and 1992. Through nine games, the Irish have already scored more points [348] than any of the previous five teams. With two regular season games remaining, plus a bowl contest, the all-time single season record of 426 points scored is in jeopardy.

This version of the 2005 Syracuse team may only have one win coming into this week's game against the Irish, but they are much improved defensively under new Coach Greg Robinson. In the first nine games the Orange defense has held three opponents to less than 100 yards passing, and they are currently ranked sixth in the nation in passing defense. "They have a really good secondary; statistically it shows it and on tape it validates it," Irish coach John Latina said. "They really do a good job against the pass. They have gotten turnovers, and they have some guys up front, who are really good players, we have to contend with.

"I think their linebackers are fast and athletic guys. It's a good defense that we have to prepare for. We like to throw it a bunch, and they defend the pass well. So it's kind of our strength against their strength, so it makes it interesting."

The luck of the Irish has certainly applied to the weather this season as there have not been any steamy hot and humid games nor have there been any downpours or snow on game days, but that may change this weekend with a predicted cold front moving into the area. Coach Latina is not concerned about a sloppy playing field, "Until you go and play the game and see who handles it the best, we will just go out and play whatever the conditions are and there will be no excuses," Latina said. "We just have to go out and play, and play well, and be efficient on offense."

This is senior week and many of the players will be making their last run out of the tunnel and playing their final game in the "House that Rock Built." The media is curious about this week and how it affects the players and routine.

"We have been full steam ahead. We really haven't deviated from the way we practiced or the structure of our practice," the veteran offensive line coach stated. "We have a certain way we practice on Tuesdays and a certain way on Wednesdays.

"We really haven't altered other than on our open dates which have been a little altered. Coaches like routine and coach Weis is like that. We have a certain routine we like to follow and adhere to. Our kids understand it and know what to expect and we have been status quo with that."

Irish offensive coordinator/running backs coach Mike Haywood is a 1986 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and shared his thoughts about senior week and staying focused.

"Home games are a little more difficult for us to keep our kids focused because of the atmosphere this institution presents," Haywood said. "At the same time, we tell them to enjoy the atmosphere. However, when we step over here on Friday, it is all about business. We have one task at hand. Everything in your personal life has to be taken care of by that point and time. Senior day is one more opportunity for the guys to enjoy and embrace their environment because this is a special place."

One of the departing Irish players is fifth-year senior Mark LeVoir. LeVoir has grown and developed into a steady and dependable offensive lineman who could be playing on Sundays in the future. True to form, LeVoir is not giving much attention to this being senior week.

"Obviously, I'm just focusing on Syracuse and really haven't thought about that," LeVoir said.

The seniors will be introduced at the pep rally Friday night, and it could be an emotional moment for these players. "Obviously, all good things have to come to an end, and I feel privileged and honored to play at a university like this," the veteran lineman stated.

"It's just the next step for me as, obviously, it's going to come to an end sometime. Hopefully, I can go out there and perform well and do well for them and all the other seniors I came in with. The whole experience to play here has been unbelievable."

Junior receiver Jeff Samardzija will be witnessing his third senior week, and next year he will be one of the outstanding players who will be making his final appearance in Notre Dame Stadium. There is no doubt this week has a special meaning.

"It's important to me, and I think for everybody on the team it is important, because when you are a senior you are going to want the same thing from the younger guys yourself," Samardzija said. "I think that's kind of how you look at it, and that is how I'm approaching it. When I'm a senior playing my last game in Notre Dame Stadium, I'm not only going to be playing as hard as I can, but I will want everybody else playing as hard as they can too. It's just an overall respect for your older seniors and fifth-year seniors that when you go out there, you are going to play hard every play.

"Obviously, you can't control everything that happens out there, but I think with this team we have confidence that we are going to play hard for our seniors. That is all we can do, and if they can walk away from the game knowing we were out there playing as hard as we could in their last game in the stadium, I think they will be happy."

Texas native Bob Morton is another senior who will be introduced and honored with his teammates at the rally Friday night, but he says it won't be the last senior night for him.

"I am one of the seniors that know that I will be coming back. I have every intention of being back, and my parents have every intention of coming up for games next year. They will not be coming up for this weekend," Morton said. "But for me, it is definitely one of those things, like guys that I have played with for four years now aren't going to be in that locker room anymore. So there is still that feeling that it is getting close for me."

Honoring the seniors has been a season-long goal for the veteran lineman. "For me it's kind of been this entire season, and talking to some of my line mates, especially who I know I won't see next year," said Morton. "We wanted to really come together and put together the kind of season that we wanted to have. And come together and have fun playing football again, not screaming at each other in the huddle, even though that happens. That is part of the fun of it, you get to yell at people but really come together and band together as one. I think doing that as an entire team will give us the results we are wanting." Top Stories