Playing corner is not an easy job. A lot of times the best corners are never mentioned during games. That's because they're doing their job—shutting down the best receivers. For every Jeff Samardzija dazzling touchdown catch, there's a corner or safety who made a mistake, and that's when the attention comes, and the spotlight can be very bright at that moment.
"When it happens, you know everyone is looking at you and you're like ‘oh man,"' said Irish defensive back Ambrose Wooden of the spotlight after getting beat for a big play. "It's going to happen. It's like coach always says: ‘those guys are one scholarship, too.' You know they're going to make some good plays and you're going to make some good plays. You've just got to hope you make more than they do."
But it's not always the corner's fault for giving up the big play.
"A lot of people sit and watch and they don't know the game that well," Wooden said. "They say; ‘oh, he got beat,' and they really don't know what was supposed to happen. That's just part of the job. You just want to cut down on the big plays and keep the ball in front of you."
Cutting down the big plays is something the Irish secondary has been focusing on all spring.
"We're just going out there trying to get better every day," the Baltimore, Md. native said. "We're making the small strides every day—getting our communication down—play your responsibility. That's something we didn't do that well last year."
The man in charge of solving those communication problems is Irish secondary coach Bill Lewis. Wooden said the enthusiasm Lewis brings to practice every day is contagious.
"He works so hard," Wooden said of the second-year coach. "He wears a sweatshirt and there's this big sweat ring on his shirt every day. That's just how hard he works. He just goes out and gives you everything he possibly can every day. It's a joy having a coach who is so passionate about the position and the game.
"You know what he expects from you, and if you mess up, he's going to let you know about it, but he's not going to be the one that screams at you and makes you feel bad about it. He's always looking for something positive out of what you did. ‘OK, you were good up until this point, but this is where you need to correct it.' That's one of the things he's really good at.
"Coach Lewis brings it to your attention; ‘you need to work on your footwork.' That's been my main attention—making my footwork when I press---footwork, footwork, footwork. I'm learning and I'm trying as hard as I can and that's all you can do."
Wooden admits that the margin for error is very slim for a corner, especially at his position of field corner, where he's usually matched up against the team's best receiver. Wooden says playing against Notre Dame's talented receivers helps prepare the Irish secondary for the talent they'll face each week in the fall.
"It takes practice. Everything is about practice," he said. "The littlest thing, a false step, could get you beat on any play. You have to try to limit your errors to limit the big plays. All it takes is one false step and you get your butt beat. I just try to work on my footwork. It's been tough, but you've got guys like (Irish wide receiver) Rhema (McKnight)…..going against the best competition every day. I'd rather compete against him and learn instead of getting thrown out on the field and make mistakes."
"He's going to bring it every play," Wooden said of McKnight. "We go one-on-one, he kicks my tail some times. I hear it after the play. I hear coach Lewis yelling. I'm like, "Rhema, you're killing me here.' I get him once in awhile. He's definitely going to make you a better player."
Wooden also says the receivers have the advantage of knowing where they're going on every play. The corner has to try to follow.
"They know what they're doing," he said of the opposition. "We've got to react a split second after them so of course we're going to be behind them a little. They've got the advantage, but that's just part of the position. You've got to be able to react, and if you make a mistake, you've got to be able to recover and act like nothing happened.
"They push off, but I'm not complaining. I used to play offense. It comes with the game. You've just got to be more physical next time and not let him push off. Sometimes you can probably grab them, too. Just can't let anyone see it," he said with a laugh.
The Irish secondary has been the victim of a number of big plays the past two seasons, but many people expect the defensive backs to be a position of strength for the 2006 season. Wooden says his unit has to earn that respect before it's given.
"I hope we are," he said when asked if the unit will be the strength of the defense in 2006 with all four starters returning. "We still have a lot of work to do. We have to limit the big plays and make more plays as a secondary. In order for us to be a strength we have to live up to that expectation. It doesn't matter what people think. It matters what we do on the field."
Or maybe what they don't do on the field, get recognized.