Head Start Helps West

School starts on Tuesday for the Notre Dame football players. Most have been through the grind of juggling classes and practice. For the freshmen on the team, this is the first time through. Head coach Charlie Weis called it the hardest part of the year for the group.

But three members of the class have a clue as to what to expect. Three freshmen were able to enroll early back in January and participated in spring ball. One of them, wide receiver George West, is there to help his fellow classmates through the process.

"They come and talk to me because I'm one of the most talkative people in the class," West said. "I like stay open and make sure everyone can talk to me. Since they've been through summer school, I think they got a knack for it and got their feet wet. They're moving in the right direction."

West, along with running back James Aldridge and offensive lineman Chris Stewart, has been on campus since the start of the year. These three have a head start on the other freshmen in the college learning process, on and off the field. West came to Notre Dame from Northeast Academy in Spencer, OK, where he was a Class 4A All-State pick as a wide receiver in 2005 after catching 28 balls for 466 yards and five touchdowns. But he was ready to come to South Bend early to help his collegiate career get off to a good start. The experience has been nothing but beneficial.

"I feel that enrolling early was a big plus for me," West said. "It gave me a big jump on finding out about college football. It was a positive move. I understood that I missed a lot in that last semester of high school but I gained a lot by coming to college. So far, I have no regrets about it. It's helped me a lot with learning the playbook and getting used to running routes against college DB's and playing against college competition. If I had to give advice to another high school player about enrolling early, I'd tell them to do it."

"The one intrinsic value of coming in midyear is that you have already been there, done that," Weis said. "And you are already past that stage. That is definitely an up-tick."

Just like a lot of other college freshmen, the transition was not without a few bumps in the road that West eventually got over.

"The hardest part was getting over the homesickness," West said. "I'm a long ways from home. I had to take a trip home. But I'm happy. It was a rough adjustment at first but whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

"As far as mentally, it's a big jump because of the whole playbook. But I have to understand that I'm playing big time college football now. The biggest adjustment in growing up is that I have to work hard to be where I want to be. It was a lot of information but nothing I couldn't handle because I was committed to making it work."

West is in the running for the fourth wide receiver spot behind starters Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight and third wideout David Grimes. The 5-8, 172-pound freshman has some speed to him and this might make him a valuable tool on kickoff returns, where he is getting a look at. In high school, he scored seven times on special teams, four on punt returns and three on kickoffs. West wants to make a contribution but like all the freshmen, is just trying to get on the ride down to Atlanta for the opener.

"I feel that the coaches ultimately know where they want me and where I can make some contributions," West said. "I understand it might be at wide receiver or on special teams. I have to make sure I do everything possible to make the trip down to Georgia Tech to help the team win a ball game."

West has the benefit of being able to watch great talent every day in practice. Samardzija is a returning All-American while Weis has constantly praised the progress of McKnight as he comes back from a knee injury. The duo is one of the tops in the nation and both are a great learning tool for West and the other freshmen.

"Jeff and Rhema are both great people," West said. "They are two people who lead by example. Instead of coming up to me and telling me how I should have run a route, they go out there and do it. As far as leading by example, they're two of the better guys I've met. I would have to say a lot goes to Coach (Rob) Ianello as well. He helps me a lot in my development. He gets right into you. But I understand every coach's strategy because they're trying to make me better."

Game time is less than two weeks away and it remains to be seen whether West makes the trip down to Atlanta. It's a good bet, though, that he will and makes an appearance or two on special teams in the kickoff return game. The experience of enrolling early, going through a spring semester and training hard in the summer has instilled the work ethic in West that drives him to see action on the field.

"I apply every coaching strategy I learn to heart," West said. "I go in the film room and study extra if I have to. I listen to my coaches and learn what I can from the veterans. Every practice is an opportunity to get better. Those 15 practices (in the spring) were opportunities for me to learn the ins and outs of what I didn't know. I take them to heart and try to be an all-around better receiver."

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