Time to Have Some Fun

After a 3-9 season, everyone on the Notre Dame football team has something to prove; but no unit will have more scrutiny than the offensive line. "They understand that we didn't perform well last year," said Head Coach Charlie Weis. "No one has to tell them that. These guys are very prideful young men.

"When you get punched in the face, you have two choices," Weis continued. "You go down or you punch back. The signs I've seen at this point right now (show) they prefer to punch back."

The juniors on the offensive line – Dan Wenger, Eric Olsen, Chris Stewart, and Sam Young – arrived on campus with plenty of stars in the recruit rankings. They know that it's time to live up to the fanfare. "Freshman year, it's shell shock," said Olsen. You're the big shot recruit. You come in, and it's like, ‘Hello!' Everyone's the big shot recruit.

"Sophomore year I was able to get on the field and start the last six games," he continued. "Now I have a spot. I'm able to get out there on the field and form the bonds. Now I can worry about the team as a whole. I don't have to worry about myself."

Sam Young agreed. "I'll never forget camp," he said, talking about his first year. "I didn't know what day it was. My roommate was Ryan Harris. Being able to have him as a resource was invaluable. Ryan was able to give me the perspective of coming in right away and starting as a freshman. Now I'm that Ryan Harris kind of guy. It's not just me. Everyone's taking ownership of this offensive line."

Weis believes the experience his linemen got as underclassmen will pay dividends this season. "People don't understand sometimes how important experience is as an offensive lineman," he said after Friday's practice. "The communication gets better. Guys start looking out for each other."

Offensive Line Coach John Latina added, "The biggest thing is that they've been in those arenas and they've experienced it. A lot of it wasn't very good; but experience is so important because, especially on the offensive line, things happen so quickly. People move around and blitz and slant. If you don't have a lot of experience, it can really affect you."

Experience matters as much in the off season as it does on the field. Olsen talked about the difference in his approach to winter conditioning the second time around. "Instead of trying to survive it, I was trying to use it. Last year was embarrassing for everyone. It was a personal thing for me to step it up in conditioning this year, but also for the team. If I step it up and work as hard as I can, the guys around me will step it up, also. We're starting to get that pride about us on the offensive line. That's going to make a big difference."

"Coach Mendoza really pushed us," Young added. "He gave us a really good plan, and we did a really good job with it."

Latina believes the line's hard work since last December will pay dividends. "I see them carrying themselves better. I've seen them all get bigger, thicker, and stronger. They look so much better than they ever have since they've been here. I see a confidence starting to grow. I have a good feeling about this group. I've seen them change. I've seen them grow. The biggest thing is attitude. You see kids change their bodies. That tells you it's important to them. You ask them to do something and see them try to do it, so they're listening."

"We have to play physical. We have to play smart. We have to play together," said Young. "Those are the three things that Coach Latina has stressed."

According to Olsen, this season will be fun if the line does those things. "Once you get a few starts under your belt, you really start to have fun. I'm out there trying to maul everyone I can. That's fun."

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