More Mental Importance Than Physical

All three practices this week, the Notre Dame football team practiced in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, which is the total opposite end of the spectrum from what's been the norm the last four weeks. Irish (1-6) head coach Charlie Weis figured enough was enough with the physical practices, as his team prepares for Saturday's game against No. 9 USC (5-1).

"Since Michigan, I've been beating em and beating em and beating em, to try and bring some toughness back to the team," Weis said. The Irish lost 38-0 nearly five weeks ago in Ann Arbor, prompting the third-year head coach to take his team back to training camp and back to basics. "Not that we didn't have toughness, but I think that Michigan game didn't look very tough to me.

"I think it's progressed and progressed and progressed to the point, and several of you have brought it up, when does it become counterproductive when you bang so much? Realistically it's at the point right now where you think that the biggest issue no longer was whether or not they were going to show up physically. The biggest issue is being in tune, being physically sharp but being in-tune mentally. That was really the big point of emphasis for this week."

***Being more physical was a big point of emphasis for sophomore cornerback Darrin Walls last week. Perhaps the Irish's best cover guy, Weis called Walls in for a lunch meeting on Friday about playing more physical.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Walls showed up for last Saturday's game against Boston College, with a couple nice tackles and a big hit to break up a pass.

"I was glad to be able on Sunday when the team was in, to be able to site him as one of the guys, where you been, in a positive mode not a negative mode," Weis said. "I think he was encouraged that he played much more physical, and it's shown up so far so good for this week as well."

***Before spring football, Weis talked to junior quarterback Evan Sharpley, who is making his first-career start this weekend against the Trojans, about how he wanted to use his allotted hours a college athlete is allowed per week between football and baseball.

"He wanted to load it up with football, so it kind of told us that this guy was here for real and he was trying to win the job."

Weis stated that Sharpley has been a loyal team guy that has paid his dues, and that that was an admirable quality.

"I think the fact that last year, probably the most telling thing I can say about this kid, is that last year you bring in two top-flight quarterbacks and he never backed down and just accepted okay these guys are going to move ahead of me. It really told you a lot about the kid at that time, because it would've been very easy at that time to sit there and say I see what direction this is headed and maybe I'll just go zero in on seeing if I can hit a curve ball.

"That's not the way it was."

***With Notre Dame's fall break next week, Irish players can either go home with their head up or down.

"They're all going home," Weis stated. "Now they're 1-6 right now. They're going to go home to the same questions that they've been having around South Bend for the whole season. I think if they beat USC and they go home, it will be a little easier to be roaming the streets from the towns their from, having just beat USC. If they lost to USC and they're 1-7, they might be hiding in their house the whole time.

"It would be a big uplift for all these kids to be able to get a long weekend away with a positive frame of mind."

***Weis was one of the first people to seek out cornerback Ambrose Wooden in the locker room following the Irish's dramatic 34-31 loss to the top-ranked Trojans two years ago. Wooden was in good coverage on Dwayne Jarrett, but somehow Matt Leinart slipped the ball passed Wooden's outstretch arm, resulting in the 61-yard catch on 4th-and-9 that set up the game-winning score.

"I told him that I was the biggest part of us losing the game not him," Weis said. "He was taking sole responsibility from that one fade ball up the sideline, and he felt he had lost the game. I told him look at all these other people in the locker room, and you can look at me first. I go, don't for one second put the sole responsibility of this loss on your shoulders. That's not the way we work around here.

"I remember going right to him because he was not doing to well."

***This Sunday Weis has appointments set up with all eight players who are fourth-year guys with another year of eligibility remaining, to discuss their respective futures.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories