Tate's Golden Moment

Golden Tate stood on the sideline during a timeout, enjoying the scenery, checking out the crowd inside Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, as Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis was trying to figure out a way to get his offense going against Penn State. The sound of two-three, two-three brought the freshman receiver back to reality, as he was actually being called into an offensive play.

Tate admitted not being ready.

"I'm like Rudy," Tate said with a laugh. "I put my helmet on and I'm like uh oh. He's like run a go, I'm like alright. I was so nervous that I actually, my release was wrong, I went inside, I went back outside turned my head four or five times, jumped up and made a play."

Unfortunately for Tate and the Irish, a flag negated the big play, and Notre Dame never got on track in the 31-10 loss. But just like Tate had been showing in practice on the show team, the speedy 5-foot-11, 188-pound receiver from Hendersonville, Tenn., can get behind the defense on a go-route.

That was never more clear than in Tate's breakout performance a few weeks later against Purdue. Again, as Weis was trying to get his offense moving, he drew up a couple plays in the dirt involving Tate.

All Tate had to do was run vertical, and he made catches of 36 yards, 43 yards, and 25 yards, the latter a diving touchdown grab that cut the deficit to 26-19 with just under eight minutes remaining.

"I can't believe I caught it," Tate said. His 104 yards receiving that afternoon is still a season high for Irish receivers. "I was just running, saw the ball and I jumped for it. After watching replays, I don't understand how I caught it.

"I didn't know I had it in me. I thought I could just jump vertically and catch it. I didn't know I could lay out and just catch it."

Tate, who made his first-career start last Saturday against USC, has proved he can run down the field, but is still in the process of learning to be a complete route runner. When he comes into the game, it's now the opposition shouting out his number looking for the deep ball. Weis said that Tate is coming along.

Tate also leads the team in kickoff-return average at 23.4 yards, just ahead of Armando Allen's 20.7 yards per return.

***Starting opposite Tate at receiver last Saturday was classmate Duval Kamara. It was the first time Notre Dame started a pair of freshmen at receiver since Milt Jackson and current Irish offensive coordinator Mike Haywood got the nods against Navy on Oct. 30, 1982.

The 6-foot-5, 222-pound Kamara came in much more polished than Tate, as Tate was a jack-of-all trades in high school while Kamara was a U.S. Army All-American receiver. He has been a regular in the Irish receiver rotation virtually all season making two starts.

Kamara's breakout game was also against Purdue, where he caught six passes for 68 yards and his only touchdown of the season. For the year, he ranks third on the team with 19 catches, and is tied for second with tight end John Carlson at 188 yards.

Though he has looked good at times, he is also nowhere near a finished product.

"I think I need to become more physical, just route-running, catching the ball and just accelerating after."

***Cornerback Gary Gray has done his job being a pest to the Notre Dame offensive coaching staff, and a thorn in the side of freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Gray broke his arm during the spring, and his lengthy recovery has relegated him to the scout team for the season. So any time he can make a play, he is doing his best to wreak havoc as a scout team defensive back or special teams player.

Even if that's not what he's supposed to do.

"I make some deflections here and there," Gray said with a smile. "They get mad at me when I do that so I just try to hold off on them. They want a good look on offense and they don't want you to interfere with the receivers, but…"

But Gray can't help it.

"Jimmy gets mad sometimes at me and the coaches do sometimes."

Gray is also considerably bigger, up from the 160 pounds or so he came to college as an early enrollee.

"It was just the dining hall, eating there everyday when I got hurt," Gray said. "I broke my arm in the spring and I didn't do a lot, I just ate."

***Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan's pass came at him like a BB, and linebacker Brian Smith forgot everything that happened between that and the 25 yards later when he was celebrating his first collegiate interception in the end zone with teammates.

"It just came out of nowhere," the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Smith said. "I think I even caught it one handed, like some teammates said I caught it one handed but I didn't even know, because as soon as it came in my hands I forgot about everything that happened and just focused on getting into the end zone.

"As soon as I caught it like a switch went on, it was like a mute, and I couldn't hear anything and it was me and Matt Ryan in the end zone."

Smith is one of three Irish freshmen in the regular rotation on the defense, joining fellow outside linebacker Kerry Neal, and nose tackle Ian Williams. He has shown up with 10 tackles, two of those coming for loss including a sack, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble.

"I'm trying to get better in practice each and everyday," Smith said. "I'm trying to get as good as I can get to end off this year on a good note so next year I can come in here with a good base."

***Neal did everything he could to come into his first year at Notre Dame with a good base. He hired a personal trainer and went from there.

"It was something to get me over the edge so I could know what the college workouts were going to be like," Neal said. Working on speed and strength, he went from 225 pounds to 240 pounds. Since arriving in South Bend, the 6-foot-2 Neal is up to 245 pounds. "It really helped me out a lot.

"On Fridays we ran the stadium at Duke and every time I got to the top I had to do five pushups," The Bunn, N.C., product continued." That's a pretty big stadium, a nice-sized stadium, it was real steep."

On Saturdays at Notre Dame, Neal has made three starts and has 11 tackles, one sack, three pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and two quarterback hurries from his outside linebacker/defensive end spot.


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