Young "Getting Better"

For the first time ever, a freshman started on the offensive line in the opening contest for Notre Dame. In all the years of national championships and Heisman Trophies, this had never been accomplished in Irish football history. The honor went to Sam Young.

And it wasn't just any contest. It was a game on the road, in Atlanta and at night in front of a very hostile crowd and a national television audience. Young, a first-team USA Today High School All-American lineman from St. Thomas Aquinas in Coral Springs, FL, would start his first game at left tackle against a blitzing Georgia Tech team that would come at him from all angles. The pressure and crazed environment were characteristics that Young relished in his first start.

"I loved it to be honest with you," Young said of the Yellow Jackets game. "When you walked out there for warm ups and people were calling you all types of names, that kind of soaked it all in. It was an electric atmosphere and they have a great stadium and great fans down there. You get trapped into that and just go."

Young has started every game in his Notre Dame career: a perfect six-for-six. There's been some bumps in the road for the freshman, as would be expected. But there have been some highs. Last week after the win over Stanford, Cardinal head coach Walt Harris spoke of the immense size of Young and how his team would have to compete with him for the next couple of seasons. Harris even joked he hoped the 6-7, 292-pound Notre Dame offensive lineman would leave early for the NFL.

"I heard," Young said of Harris's comments. "But I just put it in my back pocket. Don't get me wrong: it's nice to hear. But you just have to put it in your back pocket and play."

Harris wasn't the only head coach impressed with Young's play last weekend.

"You notice him last game?" head coach Charlie Weis asked about Young vs. the Cardinal. "Did you even notice him? That's pretty good. When you don't notice an offensive lineman, that's usually a good thing. I'm just using that as an example. You didn't even notice him.

"I said this to Dan Stevenson last year when he was whining one time about something. I said, ‘Dan, let me tell you something. The best thing about an offensive lineman is when no one knows you're out there because when no one knows you're out there, that means you're playing pretty darn well.' By me asking you a question, I don't want to answer your question by asking a question, but that's what I'm talking about. When an offensive lineman is out there and you don't notice him, that means you're running at him. It means guys aren't running by him on a pass protection. Means they're doing their job. That's the best compliment you ever can say about an offensive lineman."

Young is sort of the odd man out on the offensive line, not by his play but by his age and experience. The other four starters, Ryan Harris, Dan Santucci, Bob Morton and John Sullivan, were as veteran a bunch could be and totaled 91 career starts and 124 appearances heading into the 2006 season. It sure can help a lot when Young can look to guys who've been through the battles on the line of scrimmage.

"From day one, they really brought me under their wing," Young said. "We realized as an offensive line that we have to gel. I've grown to really trust them and they've got to know me. We're really gelling well."

Harris, in particular, has a lot in common with what Young is going through. The senior left tackle didn't start his first game in an Irish uniform. Harris sat on the bench for the first few contests of his 2003 freshman campaign. But his talent was too much to resist and he started the final eight games of the season. It's no wonder that Weis paired Harris up with Young as a mentor when the freshman stepped onto campus.

"I room with him before games," Young said. "It's nice to go over plays with him and watch film with him. I know he's been there and done that before and had a similar experience as me. I just learn a lot from him."

And learn he did. Weis hinted multiple times during fall camp that there was a possibility that Young could start the opener at Georgia Tech. Teammates would come into the interview room after practice and rave about how big he was and how wide his wingspan actually was. Young battled Paul Duncan and Brian Mattes for the left tackle starting spot. When he got the chance to shine in fall camp, Young took full advantage and it also might give a little insight into why he's destined for big things in a Notre Dame uniform.

"They just threw me in there," Young said about. "I put it on myself that if they were going to put me in this position, I might as well perform and try to earn the job. It wasn't really anyone saying something to me. It was me going out there and performing to my best."

Young now enters the "second season," as Weis likes to call it. At some point, he'll become more than a freshman with the experience he accumulates. Notre Dame stands at 5-1 on the year and every game from here on out will have a huge impact. A loss can end the hopes for a BCS bowl. It appears the fans won't have to worry about Young, who keeps improving every time he steps out onto the field.

"He's one of those guys who just keeps on getting better every week," Weis said. "He does. He keeps getting better every week. From the first game to the fifth game, all's he's done is getting better, to the sixth game, is get better every game. That's what you'd hope for. A lot of people talk about the wall, like the freshman wall. He actually is playing better each week. That's the furthest thing from his mind, I'm sure."

"I feel a lot more confident," Young said. "Going into Georgia Tech, obviously I had the butterflies. Now, I'm getting more and more confidence with every play. It's just what you would expect after six games and my confidence is only going to increase."


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