Vontez Duff is a star player and he proved it Saturday afternoon. He is 5-11 and about 185 pounds. He faced a guy who is 6-3 and 210 pound with 4.27 speed. Charles Rogers is the play maker for Michigan State. Vontez Duff was asked to be the play stopper for the Irish. Duff held his own and played Rogers stride for stride the entire first half. The one play he did give up was a star player making a star play. He did his job better than any corner in recent memory but a star player made a gold star play.
Shane Walton is a star player. People will remember the first Rogers touchdown and forget the other plays where Shane Walton beat Charles Rogers. A corner has to have a short memory and Walton has that. A wide receiver can drop balls and disappear during a half and be labeled a hero for one play. A cornerback can do the job the entire game and miss one play and be labeled the goat. Shane Walton is certainly not the goat. Shane knows he was supposed to have safety help. Shane knows that you can't win them all but he certainly won his share.
Star players step up and make plays, Courtney Watson knows that. Watson stepped up and made the plays that ended drives. He made plays that kept the Michigan State star players off the field. Cedric Hilliard knows this as well. He knows that no matter how many times he gets tackled by an offensive lineman, he has done his job and made the quarterback throw the ball before he really wanted to.
Justin Tuck, Arnaz Battle and Pat Dillingham know that in order to be a star player, you have to start making plays that star players make. Notre Dame fans have been waiting for 4 years for the Arnaz Battle to show the talent he possesses. This is the game he finally arrived and you will hear a lot more about Arnaz Battle in the weeks to come.
Notre Dame had many players step up in this game. Notre Dame does not have a player with the talent of Charles Rogers but they do have the collective talent to be a great team. They also have discipline and didn't turn the ball over. The Irish also have a desire to win that I haven't seen in any team in college football this year. They believe they win, they will do anything to get that win and that is why they succeeded this game and the two previous. They wanted it more.
The lessons learned in the last few games are what championship teams are built around. Notre Dame has faced and conquered more adversity this year than any team will face in a season. They have dominated a team and had the desire and pride to finish the game and not allow a single point to be scored. They have been faced with a struggling offense and the defense has had to do the scoring to win the game. The defense has been called on countless times to shut the door and win the game and every time they have been up to the challenge. The offense has had to step up in drives against Michigan and Michigan State after giving up the lead and they were up to the challenge. Each and every time, they have reached down deeper and pulled out a play, a series or a scoring drive when they absolutely needed one.
More importantly, the team leaders have stepped up. If the Notre Dame record was 1-2 going into this game, I wonder if Jeff Faine would have played? I wonder if Ryan Grant would have come back into the game? I would never question their heart because both have more than most players but I don't think either guy should have been playing in this game. They played because their team needed them and they wanted to be part of this. That is the selflessness you will find with the great teams.
Carlyle Holiday has been beaten like Mike Tyson in the Lennox Lewis fight but he has more heart than "Iron Mike." I know he would have went back in if they would have let him. He has never quit on this team and they have never quit on him. Holiday is a true leader because he doesn't complain about the 20 sacks he has had to endure in 4 games. I am surprised he lasted this long with some of the hits he has taken.
It doesn't stop with the team leaders. The starters have been stepping up and making the plays when they need to. Every game has had someone different stepping up and making the plays. From Omar Jenkins to Ryan Grant, Shane Walton, Maurice Stovall , Carlyle Holiday, the offensive line, the defensive line, Mike Goolsby, Courtney Watson , Nicholas Setta to Arnaz Battle, they all have made plays when Notre Dame needed a play. When the starter went down, Brandon Hoyte and Pat Dillingham stepped up. The entire team is contributing to the win.
Sports reporters and analysts marvel at the way Notre Dame wins games. They don't understand how a team with the talent that Notre Dame has continues to win. They don't understand that when the chips are down, they don't fold like so many teams do and Notre Dame has done in the past. They continue to pick them to lose and doubt their talent or desire. It's a sad day in America when people don't understand the concept of team. Notre Dame wins these games because they believe in team. They believe in themselves, their coach, this system and team. It's so refreshing to see a team play and not to be focused on individuals. You can't single out an individual player as the reason for Notre Dame's success and that is why they can't understand it. Notre Dame wins because they believe in team.
Tyrone Willingham believes in team. Coach could have basked in the limelight yesterday. ABC had Coach on the sidelines marveling at what he has been able to accomplish and he went and found his star player. He wanted people to know that he believes in Arnaz Battle and to show the world that this kid has worked hard and that we should be focusing on that instead of him. He knows he is part of the team and not the team. When ABC wanted to focus on him, he gave them something else to focus on. He gave credit to the team because Arnaz Battle made the play. Coach just made Arnaz believe he would make that play.
Society is so infatuated with stars and star players. Notre Dame does not have a Charles Rogers on their roster. They win by believing in themselves and in the team. They win because of team and that is so refreshing to see. Notre Dame fans have to be very excited about the future of Notre Dame football. Can you imagine what "the team" will be like when they do have a few Charles Rogers?