Boys Among Men For Now

In Notre Dame's 38-0 loss to No. 9 USC last Saturday, it was literally men among boys. And that has been the case for the Irish most of the season, as head coach Charlie Weis has played 23 first-time starters this year. The Trojans played with a lot of older guys most of the afternoon, while Weis and his staff rotated in 25 freshmen and sophomores among the 51 total players they played.

That equates to 18 and 19-year olds versus 21 and 22-year olds. Not to mention, some of the nation's best 21 and 22-year olds.

When asked about his thoughts on the team's progress since the season opener against Georgia Tech up until this week's open date, Weis obviously couldn't find much being 1-7. But the third-year coach did point to the fact that so many young players, the future, is getting experience now.

"So to me, if you're getting that many people indoctrinated into your program where they're actually playing meaningful playing time, I think you're setting yourself up for some bright things to happen."

Weis senses that as he bluntly told the opposition for the years to come, you better enjoy this now following the program's sixth-straight loss to USC.

"Well, look at all the production we had on offense in the (USC) game," Weis said. "The leading running back was a freshman. The leading receiver was a freshman. I mean, the guys that are getting the most pressure on pass rush were freshmen.

"Between freshmen and sophomores, they've accounted for about all the yards on offense, almost all of them, and not including the quarterback who didn't play. I mean, I think there were a number of guys that are showing us some serious promise that their futures are bright."

A future these guys can't wait for.

Though the talent is relatively unproven, other than a glimpse here and there this season during practice and on Saturdays, the Irish players know it's there. Weis has brought in arguably two top-10 recruiting classes in a row, and is in the process of bringing in the nation's top class this coming February.

So, while these final four games of the season will be the farewell tour for Trevor Laws, Tom Zbikowski, John Carlson and a few others, it doubles as auditions and reasons for optimism for next fall, as Weis will continue to run out a lot of youngsters.

"The guys, there is a bunch of talent, we just have to come together and just work hard," freshman receiver Duval Kamara said. His 19 receptions rank third on the team, and his 188 yards is tied for second. "We have a bunch of guys like Mike Ragone, Jimmy (Clausen), Armando (Allen), so we're just excited about the future."

So is the rest of Kamara's classmates.

"It's been crazy," nose tackle Ian Willams said. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound freshman has come off the bench to make 19 tackles. "I can't wait for next year and playing at Notre Dame has been the greatest experience.

"A lot of us are playing right now. The freshman class, the sophomore class and then the incoming class coming in, all of us are great guys and I've talked to the incoming freshmen when they've come on their visits, everybody is ready for next year, and we're all ready for the next four games."

The team's leading passer, Clausen is a freshman. The top three rushers, James Aldridge, Allen and Robert Hughes are all freshmen. Four of the top five pass catchers, Robby Parris, Kamara, Allen and West are sophomores or freshmen. Only one person graduates from the offensive line, and defensively, linebackers Kerry Neal and Brian Smith have been on the up-tick all season. Williams plays the least glamorous position on the team, but will be tough to keep off the field next fall with another year of development. The defense only loses four regular players.

Then there is all the guys that haven't played yet, the Gary Grays, the Harrison Smiths, players that were hurt or buried on the depth chart at a deep position this fall.

So while the freshmen and sophomore have made some plays this season, they've made a lot of mistakes and at times been physically overmatched this fall. When do they become consistent?

"I think experience," Clausen said of the answer. "There are so many young guys playing that really haven't had that much college experience. Freshmen come in and make plays, you're just getting a glimpse of what's going to happen in the future. I think that's just going to keep going down the line, and all of us are going to keep getting better."

"I just think the amount of young guys that we've got playing, whether their freshmen, sophomores or juniors that are all going to be coming back, I think there are a lot of guys that are going to be coming back and we are starting to get that chemistry from this team and the fifth-year guys have done a great job of keeping this team together as well as coach Weis and the rest of the coaching staff. I think this is going to be a real big experience for us, that's going to help us in the long run. You don't expect to go 1-7 in a season. Having tribulations and troubles like this, we're never going to want to be in this position again.

Soon, with the way recruiting is going, Weis and the Irish shouldn't be in the men among boys position either. That's the number one reason why the future look bright. As Weis said on Monday, recruiting will eventually be able to supplement the team, and not supplant. That's what's happening at USC, and that's what Weis wants at Notre Dame. The freshmen can't wait. Top Stories