Centerpiece Missing

It reads in the Notre Dame game notes that fifth-year senior center and team captain John Sullivan will be making his 43rd-career start this Saturday against Duke. Unfortunately, an injury sustained late in last weekend's loss to Air Force will keep Sullivan out of the lineup for his final game ever as a player at Notre Dame Stadium.

"It's pretty disappointing for me obviously," Sullivan stated.

"But at the same time, you know, it's part of the game of football. You know, injuries are going to happen. It presents me with an opportunity to take on a new role this week and really focus on trying to help out the guys, have almost a coaching perspective, where I'm watching, I'm observing and critiquing and just trying to help the other guys to go out there and get a win."

Sophomore Dan Wenger will make his first-career start at center for the Irish (1-9) as they prepare for the Blue Devils (1-9). Recruited to play that position, the 6-foot-4, 287-pound Wenger started the first three games of the season at right guard before being injured himself. He returned to the field against USC in a reserve role and has seen action in six contests this fall, including late in the Air Force game at center.

A couple times this season, Sullivan has been able to shake off a minor injury and return to the Irish huddle. The extent of this setback is not completely certain, but with the future the 6-foot-4, 303-pound Greenwich, Conn. product has at stake, Sullivan might also be held out of the season finale against Stanford, thus concluding a very nice career in an Irish uniform.

"See, this would be a borderline play in the second week," head coach Charlie Weis said. "It would be a borderline. You know, for him, one thing that you always get concerned with, and it's natural for anyone that's towards the end of their career in the last couple games, and you know that on the horizon is the NFL Draft and all those things, you're always concerned about something happening which would cost you a little time. He'll be healthy in a hurry. I think he's disappointed by not being able to play this week, but that doesn't mean he won't be out there helping coach the offensive linemen. That doesn't mean he won't make sure that Wenger is making all the right mike calls. We'll give him a constructive role this week where he won't just feel like he's pushed off to the side. He'll almost be like an extra assistant coach out there, which that will help us, too, this week.

The Irish need all the help they can get in trying to snap a six-game home losing streak.

Sullivan certainly has an NFL draft stock. How high or low that is, is a mystery. He'll have an opportunity to improve it during a college all-star game of some kind and the NFL combine.

Sullivan began the season touted as one of the nation's top centers, and was tabbed by many publications as a preseason All-American. Obviously things haven't gone as planned for Sullivan or the Irish.

There has been the bad shotgun snaps, the school-record 51 sacks he and an offensive line with three new starters this season have been a big part in allowing.

But for all those negatives this season, Sullivan has been a big part of many good things during his five years. He was perhaps the team's best offensive lineman the previous two seasons, helping Notre Dame achieve two-straight Bowl Championship Series bids. Though Notre Dame is second-to-last in the nation in rushing yards per game this season, Sullivan helped pave the way for Darius Walker to rush for over 1,000 yards in those BCS years. He was literally the closest player to quarterback Brady Quinn for three seasons.

"You know, I feel like, I don't know, it's hard to sum up a career," Sullivan said. "I think our class, we've been through a lot of ups and downs. We've been through great times, we've been through rough times with our record like we're going through right now. You know, we've never given up, and we're going to walk out of here no matter what with our heads held high, and we're going to be proud of what we accomplished at this school."

Without Sullivan in the lineup, everyone playing against Duke will return to the program next fall. It will be the first time Wenger will really be in the fire at center. With Wenger unavailable at guard, that gives another bench player like Chris Stewart more of a role in the rotation.

This is really an opportunity for Weis and his staff over the next two weeks to get a look at the offensive line for the 2008 season in practice and on Saturdays.

"It will certainly answer questions," Sullivan said. "I think if you get a group of guys out there that will be here next year, I think that's important if I'm not able to go. I think it will help having Dan out there at center, making the line calls and identifying the middle linebacker and all those things. It'll help the offense."

What will help Sullivan soothe the pain of not playing in his final home game is a win.

"You know, I kind of experienced the whole emotional aspect last week," Sullivan said. "But you know, going into this week, just like John (Carlson) and Travis (Thomas), I'm focused on trying to help the team win in whatever role that I'm required to take. It's a part I'm going to try to fill. Obviously there's going to be disappointment, but I think a win would help that quite a bit." Top Stories