Damian On Defense.

First he was hit with a baseball bat, right across the forehead, leaving a horizontal scar about two inches long. A centimeter above that, there is another scar from playing football in the yard and going headfirst into his father's Bronco. There is another scar on Derek Landri's chin, but you can't see it with the beard growing on the fifth-year senior's face.

The Notre Dame defensive tackle might have more nicks on his face than teammate and boxer Tom Zbikowski.

Landri earned all those scars before he turned 10-years old, and not surprisingly, he took it all like a man.

"We were kind of rough, roughing all the time, Landri said of him and his brother Luke, who is three years younger. "Throwing each other. We had the little Tonka trucks, we would take those and run into each other."

That rough play set the tone for Landri who went on to star at national prep power De La Salle in Concord, Calif., and now Notre Dame. In his final season in an Irish uniform, Landri has 55 tackles, 10.5 coming for loss with five sacks and four quarterback hurries. He has been the team's second-best pass rusher behind Victor Abiamiri with his physical style of play.

Landri was already playing the childhood game over-the-line in the neighborhood when he was five or six years old. He's not exactly sure when. He is sure that he got a little too close to the guy swinging the bat, and took a shot right across the forehead.

"I just remember my Dad carrying me from the house to the car, from the car to the hospital," Landri said.

Playing football with his brother Luke, who now plays defensive end and tackle at Diablo Valley Community College in Pleasant Lake, Calif., Landri somehow hit that Bronco dead on with his face.

"I kind of got up and rubbed my head and I was bleeding," Landri said. "I tried to wipe it off and it kept gushing blood. I just went and got it taken care of."

With the chin, Landri just fell on his face while running.

Landri managed to avoid the emergency room throughout his high school career, and was one of two five-star recruits (Rhema McKnight) in the 2002 class, started by Bob Davie's staff and completed by Tyrone Willingham's. His senior year, Landri made 55 solo tackles, assisted on 75 more in anchoring a defense that allowed just six touchdowns all season. He also started three years on the offensive line, and that's what Davie recruited him as.

"If Davie and them wouldn't of gotten fired, I might have been playing o-line, you never know," Landri stated.

"I loved playing offense as well as defense. I would have played either, either way I would've been happy."

As a three-year starter for the fifth-ranked Irish (9-1), it appears that keeping Landri on defense was the right move. Landri had 40 tackles two years ago, and 43 tackles and three sacks last season.

During the offseason, Landri put in a lot of work in the weight room, changed his diet and went from the 277 pounds listed in the media guide to 285 at the start of the season. He said he hasn't lost a step of quickness, and like a lot of guys under second-year head coach Charlie Weis, the production proves it.

"Second year in (defensive coordinator Rick) Minter's scheme, and really it's kind of knowing the scheme a little bit better, understanding my body a little bit better, getting a little bit stronger, all those things add up," Landri explained. "I've been able to produce here, not fully the way I wanted, I was expecting to do a little bit better, but it's coming a long pretty good."

"He's a piece of work, but I enjoy coaching him," defensive line coach Jappy Oliver said. "He's got a defensive-lineman attitude and disposition. As long as he channels that in the right place, he's good."

That attitude and disposition has Oliver calling Landri by a nickname.

"Derek, oh Derek," Oliver said laughing. "We have a nickname for Derek, I won't tell you all the nicknames but one of them I'll give you is Damian. So you can take it from there."

"It's hard for offenses to stop him, he's like the devil in their backfield," fifth-year senior defensive end Chris Frome clarified.

"Triple sixes, that's what he calls me," Landri said. "He says they forgot to put another six on my jersey when they gave it to me."

Maybe if the Damian nickname would've leaked sooner, it would've stuck with Irish fans like Zibby or Shark. There's still time. Landri has his last home game against Army (3-7) this weekend, where he should easily be a devil in their backfield. Then there is the regular-season finale at No. 3 USC. Win both of those and the Irish will be playing in a Bowl Championship Series game, or if the chips fall correctly, for the National Championship.

"It's definitely the right time to be at Notre Dame and the right place to be," Landri said.

Thanks to another bone-headed injury, Landri is around to enjoy this season. Though playing was never guaranteed as a true freshman, Landri didn't even have the chance after breaking his ankle in a bike accident right before his arrival at Notre Dame.

Landri said he wasn't cleared to participate in any football-related activities until a week before the team's first game, setting him too far back to make any kind of impact on the depth chart.

"Another one of those things, a kid messing around, your dad tells you not to mess around and me and my brother were messing around," Landri said. "Got my ankle caught between the curb and the (BMX) bike, and it just snapped. I didn't really know what happened. I fell on my face at first. I got up and tried to walk and it popped right out. When I was laying there I could feel it flopping back and forth, it wasn't too good. My brother went and got my Dad.

"Once again," Landri said laughing, "about 280 pounds, he picked me up and put me in the back of the truck and we went to the hospital."

Another injury Landri took like a man.

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories