Before the 2008 season, Mike Anello was a little-known walk-on who had trouble convincing Notre Dame security guards that he was actually on the team.
Anello, who also earned a scholarship before last season, will enter 2009 on the Lott Award Watch List.
The Lott Award is named in honor of Ronnie Lott and is given to a top defensive player who had the biggest IMPACT on their team on and off the field. IMPACT stands for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.
So the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Anello finds himself on the same list as Tennessee's Eric Berry, USC's Taylor Mays, Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and Florida's Brandon Spikes. But Anello has gotten used to being in unlikely company, that started when he made the Irish team as a walk-on.
Anello started as the gunner on Notre Dame's punt coverage team opposite of probably the Irish's top athlete, David Bruton. By the end of the 2008 season, despite playing almost solely on special teams, Anello had become one of the team's top playmakers along with Bruton, Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.
Anello heard about his inclusion on the Lott List from a reporter.
"I didn't know," he laughed. "Good deal, that sounds exciting and hopefully I can live up to that then, huh?"
HEAVY HUGHES OR LIGHT HUGHES?: Charlie Weis does not really care about running back Robert Hughes' weight, he just wants him to make a decision. Hughes is listed on Notre Dame's roster at 5-foot-11, 237 pounds.
"I mean he has two choices, either lose weight or play big. He wants to be Armando [Allen] as far as how he runs the ball," Weis said. "If he wants to be Jerome Bettis, he doesn't have to lose any weight. So it all depends upon the style he likes to run. He will run them over but he likes to make them miss, and if you are going to do that, dropping a few pounds is always a good thing when you are a big guy.
"I want either/or. If he is going to be big, I expect that style to play big. I'm comfortable with either one, but if you want to play the style of making them miss, then you are better off being a little bit lighter."
While Hughes has said that he does not consider himself a certain type of running back, his position coach Tony Alford definitely has a preference.
"Personally, I would like to see him be more of a bruising guy, a big and physical guy," Alford said. "I think he can do a little bit of both, but he needs to hone in a little bit. I've talked to him about that, I'd like to see him be more of a physical presence on every down."
ALLEN NOT WORRIED ABOUT ROTATION: Last year's running back rotation between Allen, Hughes and James Aldridge worked out fine as far as keeping all of them happy even if it did not work out in terms of production.
Allen said that he is not sure how the carries will be split up this year, but he is not worried.
"That's unpredictable. Our focus is just to go out there, play hard and compete. We just leave that up to Coach Weis," he said. "We just go out there and compete everyday."
Allen said that it easy to watch his teammates get carries because he recognizes that they are talented runners too.
"When you look at our group, we have a backfield that's full of talent. When you have a backfield like that, it's very, very useful for everybody to get their carries," Allen said. "If I come out of the game or Robert or Jonas [Gray] or any running backs, James Aldridge comes in the game, I have confidence in them that they're going to get it done too.
"When you have a group like that, you really can't argue over carries. You should be happy that you have a talented group."
One thing that Allen and all of the backs need to worry about with their new position coach is ball security.
"That's one thing that he takes very personal. He always tells us, ‘When you have the ball in your hand, you basically have the team in your hand,'" said Allen. "He's stressing it, he even has punishments if we fumble in practice."
Allen said that the punishment is typically extra sprints.
"Usually gassers after practice and it can be overwhelming, but it's for the better of us," he said.
PARRIS PERFORMS: Wide receiver Rob Parris was one of the guys Weis was talking about when he said that some of the older guys needed to step up if they did not want to be passed by younger players.
Evidently, Parris took the challenge to heart.
"Robby needed to have a good camp with all the flux we've had at receiver, and he has," said Weis.
Parris said that he needed to show the coaches that they could count on him.
"I just wanted to be consistent. I just wanted to let Coach Weis and Coach Ianello know that if I go in, they're know what they're going to get out of me," he said. "That's just what I tried to do everyday. I just tried to go out there and just play as hard as I can."
Parris got the chance to get extra reps as virtually every receiver has missed time this spring.
"It was an opportunity for me, I had to take advantage of that because that doesn't happen very much," he said. "When I got my chances I had to go full-go."
Parris will be a senior in 2009 and has always been one of the looser guys on the team, but has learned that there is a time for everything.
"You can't really be a clown all of the time. I kind of figured out when I could be and when I can't," he said. "That's good because they know that I can be serious as well as have fun too."
Parris has learned that there is one time in particular when joking is off limits.
"When we go team periods," he said. "If you're a clown and you go in there soft on a safety, they're going to take your head off."
The staff has tried to stress the importance of taking the game seriously since Parris arrived as a freshman.
"They've told me that since freshman year," he said. "I think as time has gone on, I've kind of learned what not to do and what to do."