Sophomore Duo in the Hunt

There are a ton of position battles on the Notre Dame football team as they head into spring practice. None are more important than the open spot at quarterback, left by No. 10 Brady Quinn. The outgoing senior leaves behind an impressive trail of records and accomplishments. Now, the Irish have a quartet of quarterbacks to fill the vital position. But who is it going to be?

It's anyone's guess. Head coach Charlie Weis said at Wednesday's press conference that he would like to get it down from four quarterbacks to two after the conclusion of the Blue-Gold game. He wants to give each signal caller equal reps and let them battle on the field for the position. Two of those quarterbacks are sophomores Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones, who both did not take a snap last season as freshmen. Junior Evan Sharpley and early enrollee Jimmy Clausen are also in race for the starter's job to replace Quinn. Spring practice is the time to strut their stuff.

"It's definately a long road but I think it'll work out in the end," Frazer said. "That's what I have my eyes on. I have an opportunity everyone dreams about. Everyone wants to be the quarterback of Notre Dame. It's a great opportunity and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of it."

"We all know the expectations coming into spring, on and off the field," Jones said. "Coach Weis is a very demanding person. There are no secrets about the responsibility that we have to take on. There are no secrets as to how he'll evaluate guys. He's going to go by what he sees. All of us have that chance to be that guy. Now, it's a matter of taking the baton and running with it."

Both were highly recruited coming out of high school. Jones was a star prep player from Chicago, Illinois and was picked to participate in the Army All-American bowl. He was one of seven quarterbacks on the Parade prep All-American team. Frazer, a native of Mechanicsburg, PA, was the Associated Press Class AAA Player of the Year in Pennsylvania his senior year and also selected for the Army All-American contest.

Some quarterbacks with those types of resumes would come into a school freshman year and compete for the starting job. But not at Notre Dame, where Quinn was the man in charge going into his senior season. Jones and Frazer watched Quinn throw for 37 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in leading the Irish to a 10-3 record and a second straight appearance in a BCS bowl game. Both have different memories of Quinn that stick out in their mind. For Jones, it was the comeback against Michigan State where Quinn started slow but turned it on to throw five touchdowns and help Notre Dame beat the Spartans 40-37 in East Lansing.

"It's to have a short-term memory," Jones said about what he learned from Quinn. "I've watched the Michigan State game over and over. Everyone knows that we were down. He wasn't having his normal routine game. But it goes back to the three C's of being a quarterback: confidence, character and consistency. He didn't start the game off good but it's about how you finish. I'm not saying he didn't have my respect before that but that's when he truly earned my respect because I watched the emotion and some of the bad plays he made. After every play, he erased it and did something positive. He came out with a W."

For Frazer, it has a little more to do with how to handle the coveted position of being the Notre Dame quarterback.

"He definitely handled a lot," Frazer said of Quinn. "Playing behind him helped me and helped me mature and get out of the freshman stage. I'm still a freshman but being a quarterback of Notre Dame, you have to act a little more mature."

Both bring a little something different to the table. Jones, at 6-4, 210-pounds, is charasmatic and the most athletic out of the quarterback bunch. He can hurt teams with his arm and legs. But asked on Wednesday whether he'd rather run a touchdown in from 30 yards or a complete a pass for a 30-yard scoring strike, Jones opted for the air attack, not the ground attack. His motto to approach the quarterback position is to have "service with a smile." Jones wants to gain the trust of his teammates and be a leader in the huddle.

"I have all the quarterback qualities, on and off the field," Jones said. "I'm confident and let the team know that I know what I'm doing when I go out on the field. I want to be consistent. I don't want to throw a touchdown and then throw an interception and fumble the ball. I want to show great character and progress daily."

Frazer is considered the more pure pocket passer. The sophomore has great size for the label. Frazer stands at 6-5 and weighs 226 pounds, a good body type that can absorb the oncoming defenders' hits and blows. As a junior in high school, he threw for over 3,600 yards and threw 27 touchdowns through the air and ran in another 12. At the end of spring ball, Frazer wants to be in that final two that'll duke it out for the starting spot in the fall.

"The competition is going to get tough but you have to work towards one of those two spots," Frazer said. "It's going to be exciting.

"It's not 15 practices anymore. I have 14 more practices to get better and get that starting position. Everyone has different characteristics but we'll all trying to start."

The sophomore duo have a new quarterbacks coach this spring. Ron Powlus took over for Peter Vaas after last season and knows a few things about the Notre Dame quarterback position. Powlus was also a highly recruited prep star and broke 20 school records while playing for the Irish. He knows the type of pressure, on and off the field, that comes with the job. Powlus will provide whatever information and tutelage is needed to help the youngsters through the experience.

"Certainly, I can relate to playing quarterback at Notre Dame," Powlus said. "I went through that experience and lived it. I can be a good sounding board for them and tell them what to expect on the field and in classes. It's all a matter of us working together with Coach Weis and learning the offense in his terms and how he wants it to be executed."

Powlus and Frazer share one distinct characteristic: they're both from Pennsylvania, long known as the cradle of quarterbacks.

"He's from PA," Frazer said with a smile on his face. "So that's a good thing. I like that. It's great having him and that support. If you have a question, since he's been through it and experienced it he can answer it. It's great to have him mentally there and ask him any problem we have."

As for Jones, he was hardened on the streets of Chicago and has risen to become one of the contenders for the Notre Dame quarterback position. It's obvious after talking to Jones that he takes great pride in hailing from the Windy City.

"There's defiantly a Chicago toughness," Jones said. "Michael Jordan played there. It's a certain gratification that you want to come away with being an athlete. There's a grudge you have against competition but you don't shy away from it. We call it the G-code. We don't back away from it."

For now, the battle continues. Frazer said he worked hard in the off-season lifting and running with strength and conditioning coach Ruben Mendoza. Jones actually switched his jersey number to 3. There's a lot of history for Notre Dame quarterbacks with that digit and Jones said he wanted to embrace the tradition of it. The battle for the spot is a heated one but purely civil. There's no bad blood between any of the signal callers and it's about the best man winning the job.

"If we have classes together, we'll hang out," Frazer said of the quarterback quartet. "It's not a battle between us on and off the field. There is competition but it's a sport. There's competition in every sport. Competing for that number one spot is tough but we're still friends. We're buddy-buddy and looking out for each other."

"Of course it's friendly," Jones said. "These are the same guys you meet everyday and have lunch with and spot on the bench. Of course it's friendly. We all know what's going on. We don't have any type of hidden devil thoughts about each other. It's a business but who doesn't want to start? Who doesn't want to be that guy come season time? At the same time, we describe it as getting it while it's hot. We know all what Coach Weis demands and what it'll take to separate ourselves."


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