Not So Young

The departure of numerous starters from the 2006 Notre Dame football team has forced Charlie Weis to fill some gaps in the lineup. One move that was widely expected was Sam Young moving from right tackle, where he played last season, over to left tackle to replace Ryan Harris. At his opening press conference of the spring, Weis made it clear that Young was staying put.

"I've heard a lot of people just projecting Sam automatically playing on the left side because he played some in high school," Weis stated. "He'll be starting off this spring at right tackle."

Young did play left tackle in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida. But with Harris entrenched at the spot in 2006, the incoming freshman would have to look elsewhere. Young's talent was undeniable and exemplified by starting the first game of his career on the road at Georgia Tech. The massive 6-7, 315-pound frame would get his first taste of college football in a hostile, humid environment down in Atlanta. Notre Dame won the contest 14-10 and Young played reasonably well. However, a false state penalty on the opening play of the game won't easily be forgotten.

"I came out and absolutely loved the atmosphere," Young said. "I thought that was the most fun I've had walking into a stadium. I've played in two state championships. But you walk out there and you see 50,000 people that want to rip your head off. I love that atmosphere.

"Once the game starts, you get tunnel vision. You can't let yourself fall into that trap that I just went offsides. You can't be scared. My friends and parents give me a hard time about the penalty. It's just part of the business. Deal with it and don't worry about it."

It's this type of attitude that has made Young a valuable part of the offensive line. The sophomore started all 13 games in 2006. Last year, the offensive line had their struggles. Notre Dame was just 72nd in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 125 yards per game on the ground. In pass protection, it was even worse. The Irish allowed 2.38 sacks a contest, which was 85th in Division 1A.

The makeup of the offensive line will be different in 2007. Gone are Dan Santucci, Bob Morton and Harris. Positions need to be filled at both guard spots and left tackle. Juniors Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich and sophomore Dan Wenger are the possible replacements for the three openings.

What could make this group a more physical bunch is the play selection next season. The Irish are loaded at running back with Travis Thomas, James Aldridge and Armando Allen and not so deep at wide receiver. With a new quarterback taking over for Brady Quinn, a dependence on smash mouth football could be in order, which suits Young just fine.

"We've taken a great initiative to really get hungry,' Young said. "We have something to prove out there. We're a young line. People will come in and think, ‘A bunch of sophomores and two returning starters with no Brady Quinn.' We have to get after it and take over the game. We have that hungry attitude.

"We're going for a more physical game up front. As a lineman, that's what you want. You'd rather be making the blow than receiving one on a passing play. It's been a lot of fun so far with the new physical attitude."

Young's fast rise rivals that of Harris, who in a month's time will be picked in the NFL Draft. Harris came to Notre Dame and sat the first few games of his freshman year. But like Young, his talent was too much to keep on the sideline and Harris started the final eight games of the season. By the time of his final game, Harris started the final 45 contests of his career. If Young can stay healthy, a streak like this is a definite possibility. Weis picked Harris to be Young's mentor last year and the result was a friendship on and off the field.

"I'm in contact with him constantly," Young said of Harris. "Because of our conflicting schedules, usually I'll send him a text message. I'll joke around with him. I got to see him on the first Pro Day.

"He's a real good friend of mine. I'll cherish our friendship. He's taught me countless amounts and I'm lucky to have been roommates with him for games. The way he approaches the game and his mindset and the little things were the biggest things he taught me."

There will only be one player on the offensive line next season with more experience than Young. Fifth-year senior John Sullivan is the unquestioned leader of the group and was picked by his peers as a member of the Leadership Committee from the offensive line. After Sullivan, the new starters could look to Young for pointers. The sophomore will be open ears if questions are thrown in his direction.

"Sully is obviously our leader," Young said. "If that ever presented itself, I'm more than happy to answer questions. Being a returner does have some responsibilities and if the time presents itself I'll be more than glad to help."


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