Counting On Carufel

If Matt Carufel ever needed anything this past season, his freshman year, the offensive lineman could count on seniors Marcus Freeman and Ryan Harris to be there to help him out. All three are part of the recent Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) pipeline to Notre Dame, so the two took Carufel out to dinner, drove him back home over breaks, and even helped transport water to his dorm room.

Those two are gone, and now it's the Notre Dame football team counting on Carufel.

Expiring their eligibility with Freeman and Harris are guards Dan Santucci and Bob Morton. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Carufel joins classmates Eric Olsen and Dan Wenger, and junior-to-be Michael Turkovich in a competition to replace those two in the starting lineup. Those guys will try to get a leg up before the 2007 recruiting class reports in the summer.

The first day of spring practice on Wednesday, Carufel with the lack of depth on the offensive line, got a lot more reps in practice than he was accustomed to as a straight reserve or scout-team player last season.

"That's what I want. I don't want to be out of the mix," Carufel stated. He saw action in three games last season. "I want to be right in there. That's what I've been looking for.

"I'm very confident in myself. I just have to go out there and show them how I feel."

Carufel is working out at both guard positions.

Notre Dame offensive line coach John Latina has said numerous times that he wants his guys to play with a defensive mentality. Head coach Charlie Weis and Latina reminded the young players again before spring ball kicked off.

"They said to everybody we have to get out there and hit and get better," Carufel said. "Nothing specific, just get out there and be physical. That's what I'm shooting for."

And Carufel is more prepared for it. He's been through a college season where they tried to raise the physical intensity everyday. He has now been through an offseason workout regiment with program strength and conditioning coordinator Ruben Mendoza.

"I've improved a lot over the winter," Carufel said. "I think most notably, my speed and quickness has got a lot better. I am putting up good strength numbers, but I think the running helped me out a lot."

One of six talented offensive linemen that joined the Irish program and provided immediate depth, Carufel earned a spot on the depth chart and travel squad this past fall. Six games into the season, Carufel heard his name called to play against Stanford at Notre Dame Stadium.

"You can think about it and how it's going to be all you want," Carufel said of his debut. "But what you think it's going to be and what it actually was, was a big difference. It was amazing. You can't describe it very well. You just have to feel it to really know what it is. It's just a special thing."

Last season during the month Notre Dame prepared for its Sugar Bowl game against LSU, some of that time was devoted to letting the reserves get more work. Carufel, Olsen and Wenger impressed Weis, and were publicly complimented for it. He has let those guys know where they stand coming into the spring and fall, and feels all three are up to the challenge.

"Well, first of all, they are big and strong, and I think that's half the battle," Weis said. "Because, you know, when you're playing with less experienced guys, the more you can take the physical approach, the more you can say we're going to go smack the guy in front of us, that's the easiest thing for them to understand. And either you can do it or you can't do it. They all have shown the capability of being able to do that."

While Carufel has shown the capability, he thinks he needs work in the physical department as well as everywhere else.

"I would say, just picking up the tempo of my game," Carufel said. "I think I came in not with great technique, but I came in with some decent technique and I think I am mostly just picking up my physical game, just getting up to the playing speed of college. That's what I'm working on.

"The plays are in, I know the plays, I'm still working on that, but I don't really think the plays are a thing. It's just, I got to get up to the playing speed of college."

And quick, because the Irish coaches are counting on him.


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