A Man With Two Homes

After helping St. Thomas Aquinas High School to the Florida Class 5A championship, Dan Wenger, along with teammate Sam Young, made the trek up to South Bend for their freshman seasons at Notre Dame. Young's first year was full of accolades and experience as the 6-7, 315-pound right tackle started 13 games. Wenger's freshman season was on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Wenger was injured last season with an arm injury. The Coral Springs, FL native was pulling out on a screen and his hand jammed, causing the problem. Wenger continued to practice in 2006 and actually won "Show Team Player of the Week" in the lead-up to a game. Still, watching Young and his fellow classmates earn experience was frustrating.

"That was a rough first year," Wenger said. "I went from being one of the stars at my high school to being injured. I knew I wasn't going to come in and start and make a name for myself right away. I didn't expect to break the wrist. It was real tough and shocking in the beginning. I sucked it up, though, and dealt with it."

Wenger wasn't slated to play a lot last year. John Sullivan was a two-year starter at the center position. Still, Wenger probably would have garnered time in mop-up duty at some point of the season. The sophomore is eyeing a possible fifth-year down the road but a more pressing topic is on his mind: the starting spot at right guard.

There's a hole to be filled at the position. With Sullivan's return for a fifth-year, the coaches decided to move Wenger over to right guard and battle fellow classmate, Matt Carufel. The learning process hasn't always been smooth but it's a challenge Wenger is willing to undertake.

"It's been a little bumpy here and there," Wenger said about the move. "For the most part, when you play center and grasp the concepts, you start to understand more positions along the offensive line. You start to understand the tackle's responsibility to the guard and so on. Everything starts to click and make sense. Like I said, there are some things that have been bumpy. But I think I'm picking it up pretty well."

Since Weis hired John Latina as offensive line coach, there's been an emphasis on position flexibility up front. If Sullivan ever missed time at center, Wenger would move over to handle the duties. Latina likes having the best players possible ready for action.

"It gives you two things as a coach," Latina said about position flexibility. "When an injury occurs, you can put the next best player at the position. If you just go by strictly position, your 10th best player might be the second right tackle. Why would you want to put the 10th best player in when the sixth best player can be put in at the position? It gives you a chance to put the best player in after the top-five. Plus, it makes them grow and challenges them in the big picture instead of their little world."

In the spring time was when Wenger was given the chance to earn the starting spot at right guard. But another injury slowed the sophomore down. Wenger tweaked his hamstring during the spring, giving Carufel added reps in practice. In the summer, Wenger wasn't about to get beat off the field, pushing himself hard.

"I did what I had to do in the weight room and running," Wenger said, who now weighs between 285-290 pounds. "I had the strength coaches push me to my abilities. When I was home, I did a lot of individual stuff with my family, brothers and especially my dad. I prepared myself for game-time situations. I wanted to make the best out of the situation."

Wenger actually might have had a starting spot sowed up. If Sullivan had decided to forgo a fifth-year and enter the NFL Draft, Wenger would have been first choice to replace him at center for the 2007 season. But Sullivan decided to come back to Notre Dame for another year and Wenger couldn't be happier about the move, hoping to one day mirror the veteran on the field.

"I feel very grateful for him coming back for a fifth-year," Wenger said of Sullivan. "Everything that he does, I try to do and see what he does every single play and emulate him. I really try to make myself to be a player like him. He's the best lineman we have right now and the smartest. That's what I want to be. I want the coaches to say, ‘Yeah, we lost a great player in Sully but Wenger can step in and fill in pretty well for him.'"

Wenger appreciates the leadership role Sullivan takes on the field and the way the fifth-year senior teaches the younger players through drills and plays.

"When we're drilling, the coach can't watch you on every single play," Wenger said. "Coaches aren't necessarily going to pick out your corrections on every play. When he's taking a little break, he's watching me and telling me to do whatever I need to do on the play."


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