Less Racket in Practice and Meetings

Finally some peace and quiet, although the Notre Dame coaching staff would take the alternative in a heartbeat. Always talking and putting in his two sense, junior nose tackle Pat Kuntz won't play in Notre Dame's (1-9) game against Duke (1-9) on Saturday with an injury, and the starter hasn't been present for practice or meetings this week.

"He is a piece of work, but life definitely goes on that's for sure," defensive line coach Jappy Oliver said with a laugh after Wednesday's practice.

"It's a lot quieter, period. Meetings, practice, because he doesn't stop running his mouth, that's for sure."

The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Kuntz went down in the first half of the 41-24 loss to Air Force last week, and for the second-straight game did not return. Head coach Charlie Weis indicated during his Tuesday press conference that Kuntz will also likely be out for the season finale against Stanford.

Freshman Ian Williams has done more than an adequate job filling in for Kuntz the last two games. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Altamonte Springs, Fla. product registered 11 tackles in his first extended action of the season against Navy, and Williams came back with six more stops against Air Force.

As a matter of fact, in far less snaps, the 36 tackles Williams has made this fall is only six behind Kuntz. However, Kuntz has knocked down nine passes.

Kuntz's unfortunate injury opens the door for a couple other young players.

"Been rolling Derrell Hand in there and also Paddy Mullen, so we have some people that we can put in there that can hold up for us," Oliver said.

Hand and Mullen have combined for only four tackles this season.

***Oliver has been coaching college football since 1979, and he stated that he hasn't had a player that has been as productive as fifth-year senior defensive end Trevor Laws has been this season.

Laws has made 98 tackles to lead the team, and the nation among fellow defensive linemen. Six of those stops have come behind the line of scrimmage, and he has also broke up five passes, recovered two fumbles and blocked two kicks, putting together an All-American type fall.

"I think I am," Laws stated when asked if he's an All-American. "I haven't been able to watch all the other guys but I think I can give them a run for their money."

He certainly could, and Oliver agreed.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," Oliver said. "He's had a very productive year regardless of our win-loss record.

"It's almost like he wills himself to get to the ball carrier. He didn't do that the same way last year, and he has stepped it up in those regards this year."

One Notre Dame fan has deemed Laws worthy of the Heisman, creating a web page dedicated to that. Laws laughed when he heard about that.

"It's always awesome when people recognize you for what you do on the field and stuff," he said. "I wish things would've gone a little differently so far this year, but it's always flattering when I hear that kind of thing."

One positive constant in a season struggling for good things, has been Laws' play and his high motor and effort on every snap. He said he has two more games in him.

"I don't want to go out and have a bad game and leave a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of my life," Laws said. "So I want to play great these last two games."

***Dwight Stephenson Jr. applied for a fifth-year because he came to Notre Dame to play football. His first four seasons, he didn't do too much of that.

That changed for the defensive end this year.

The 6-foot-2, 272-pound Delray Beach, Fla. product quickly worked his way into the rotation back in the spring, and has seen action in all 10 games this fall, including four starts. His 33 tackles rank ninth on the team, and he also has four tackles for loss including a sack.

He's come a long way from a rookie linebacker that didn't play as a freshman. Stephenson didn't play as a sophomore either as he moved to the line, and only saw the field in seven games combined over the last two years. He had just one career tackle coming in.

"I came to play and I accomplished that," Stephenson said. It hasn't hit him yet that Saturday is the last time he'll play inside Notre Dame Stadium. "Even if I didn't play, I came to work my hardest and whatever happened, happened. But I got to play and it made things that much greater. So I accomplished what I've come to accomplish.

"I played and we didn't win too many games, but I think I learned more out of losing all these games," Stephenson continued. "Trying to look at the positives of what's happened so far, and just seeing the character of the team, and the student body and the fans, seeing everybody still backing us after probably the worst season that I can imagine we could've possibly had, we could've lost one more and it would be even worse. But seeing everybody, the camaraderie and everyone still sticking together, I'm glad to be able to experience that."

***Saying Notre Dame has struggled against the run this season would be an understatement. Ranking 103rd nationally in that department, the Irish have a chance to look good this weekend, as Duke and the nation's worst rush offense come to town.

"We're long overdue that's for sure," Oliver said. "This is a team that's going to do both. They're going to throw it as well as run the ball, so we got to be sharp on both ends."

***Laws and fellow fifth-year senior cornerback Ambrose Wooden commented on playing at Notre Dame Stadium for the last time.

"Lots of memories," Laws said. "I remember my first year playing. I remember lots of big games, the USC game a couple years ago sticks out in my mind. Everything. It's crazy for the fifth-year seniors, it's winding down. Time flies as they say."

"It's finally setting in, hit me on Tuesday this is my last week getting ready for my last home game," Wooden said. He's made 24 tackles this season. "It's kind of crazy. I can't count how many home games I've had but it's been a lot, and it's been awesome so far. Just have to try and finish strong."

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