Sizing Up To the Obstacles

When current freshman wide receiver Duval Kamara walks into a room, a pair of things become instantly evident. The first feature to catch your eye is his size and frame. The second — his grin and laughter that helps him get through the rigors of balancing football and academics at Notre Dame.

Although his smile clearly indicates the happiness at this point in Kamara's life, he knows that his physique will help him advance much further on the football field than his cheerful demeanor in life.

"My size," Kamara said instantly when asked his view on his own strengths as a receiver. "Just being able to dominate the corners."

Receivers coach Rob Ianello couldn't agree more.

"Well, obviously one of the positives he has is his size," Ianello said. "I mean, he plays to his strength, and one of his strengths is his size."

Dominate the corners he did. Last season the Hoboken, NJ. native started five games, and played in 11, picking up 32 total receptions for 357 yards, good for second on the squad. In addition to these numbers, Duval Kamara led the Irish with four touchdown receptions.

Despite his early successes at the position, however, the sophomore-to-be is well aware that he can improve on several aspects of his game as well, which would catapult him to the next level of wide receivers among the nation. Knowing that this is an area needing improvement, Kamara has taken it upon himself to ameliorate his velocity throughout the off-season.

"I think I can work on my quickness and speed, which I'm still working on," he said about his weaknesses. "Just my diet, trying to lose a few pounds and things like that."

In the beginning of the season, Kamara was used sparingly, although this may have primarily come because of missed chances. After catching a pair of passes against Georgia Tech in the season opener, Kamara dropped a clear touchdown at Happy Valley, Pa. against the Nittany Lions. He finished this contest with a sole reception for six yards. He spoke about his experiences coming into action for the first time, and his emotions at the time he stepped on the field.

"Coming in, you get kind of nervous," Kamara said. "The first play, you're not expecting to be as strong as the other guys, but once you get a few plays in, you realize that you can really do it. You can rung with these guys, it's not that big of a difference."

The next two games, Michigan and Michigan State respectively, saw the freshman catch only one pass per game for a gain of 23 yards. Then, the Purdue Boilermakers were hit with his breakout game. In the contest, he hauled in six catches for 68 yards and his first career touchdown — an experience Kamara will never forget.

"It was a great experience," Kamara said. "That's what you dream about. Just scoring in any college game, but Notre Dame is special. Scoring in the end zone for the first time, it's just wonderful."

After injuries plagued the receiving corps, his first start came midseason against Boston College, and was with the first team unit on four of the last five games.

Irish head coach Charlie Weis sat Kamara for the Air Force game November 10 for academic reasons. The disciplining came as an eye-opening experience for Kamara, who didn't know quite exactly what to expect, but has turned his act around.

"At first it hit me kind of hard," Kamara said. "I wasn't shocked, but [Weis] is big on academics and I can't go against that."

The worst part of the entire situation for Kamara wasn't the extra work he eventually had to put into his studies, but the remorse and guilt of not living up to his teammates' standards.

"I felt like I let the team down," he said. "That game, I just didn't feel it and I thought that I owed it to the team to come out the next game and perform really well for the rest of the season."

The transition has had its roadblocks along the way, but like every change in life, adjustments are made, and Kamara is getting comfortable with the college life.

"It's a little more than I expected," Kamara said of his first year balancing act between football and university life. "I'm coming along with it, so I'm just trying to have a good time and enjoy this college experience."

As the laugh rolls out of his mouth after saying the previous sentence, it becomes clear that this is the moment when Duval Kamara's upbeat character has helped him keep life on an even keel.

"It's not stressful," he continued. "I kind of expected it to be hard. That just comes with the territory."

This spring, Kamara has had to show up late for a practice because of a career development course in the Arts and Letters program that runs approximately 40 minutes into the session. It has become just another example of his continued work ethic and determination to excel.

"It's just coming in and hurrying up to go out there and give one-hundred percent because I've missed a few drills and things like that," Kamara said. "It's just about going out and giving one-hundred percent and not slacking off."

With the playing experience that Kamara has earned on the field during his freshman year, coach Ianello is excited about his progress throughout the off-season. Some of this developing, Ianello believes is attributed to senior wide out David Grimes, but his time in the lion's den last season has been his best teacher.

"Well, I think when you have some older guys in the group, they have somebody that they can look to and ask questions to, and they can lean on," Ianello said. "And nothing beats growing up better than experience. So if you're a guy that played some last year, you have experiences, and those experiences of seeing a blitz and picking it up, and side adjust to it, releasing against certain techniques, of making a hard catch, playing in front of all those people. Those experiences should help a guy, and just like Duval or anybody. And we're hoping it's helped him and that he'll continue to grow in the offense continue to grow and learn how to practice and play college football. They've got to elevate their game. That's what we're trying to get done."

Much as Grimes has been a mentor to Kamara, the sophomore-to-be will get his shot, as he becomes one of the more experienced receivers on the unit. With the freshman class of Michael Floyd, Deion Walker and John Goodman all set to go in the summer, Kamara is excited just as much as anyone.

"I think so," he responded at the chance of accepting a more vocal role. "I mean, a bunch of the guys that came in this past year have to step up and handle that leader role a little more."

So what lies in the future for Duval Kamara? Ask him, and he'll say greatness.

"I'm just trying to go out there and be the number one receiver, and just be an All-American," Kamara said with a stoic look on his face. "Those are my goals this year."

After saying this, of course, the gazes on the reporter's faces evolve into surprise and then the typical, "hold the Heisman?" question emerges.

"I'm just taking it step by step," he replies — of course with a smile on his face.


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