Chicago Colleges: Kona Schwenke

Historic draft weekend for Notre Dame

May, 12, 2014
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Notre Dame walked away from NFL draft weekend with eight of its former players getting picked, tied with Alabama for the second most of any school in the country, behind LSU's nine. The eight picks also marked the most in a single draft for the Irish in 20 years, as they had 10 draftees in 1994.

In addition, six former Notre Dame players signed with NFL clubs after the draft, with five of those players coming from last season's team.

Seven of Notre Dame's defensive starters from the Discover BCS National Championship following the 2012 season have now been drafted as well: Kapron Lewis-Moore (Ravens, 200th), Manti Te'o (Chargers, 38th) and Zeke Motta (Falcons, 244th) last year; Stephon Tuitt (Steelers, 46th), Louis Nix (Texans, 83rd), Prince Shembo (Falcons, 139th) and Bennett Jackson (Giants, 187th) this year.

It's not a stretch to say that linebacker Danny Spond, who also started against Alabama in the title game, was on track to be drafted prior to retiring before last season because of hemiplegic migraines. It's also worth noting that safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was drafted 175th overall by the Browns last year, started on the Irish's 2012 defense before suffering a season-ending Achilles' tear in Week 3. Two defensive starters from that title game, KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley, still have two years of eligibility left at Notre Dame.

Here's a recap of Notre Dame's 2014 draft weekend. Irish transfers Shaquelle Evans (fourth round, 114th overall) and Aaron Lynch (fifth, 150th) were both drafted as well.

DRAFTED

LT Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (first round, 16th overall)

DE Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers (second, 46th)

TE Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals (second, 52nd)

NG Louis Nix, Houston Texans (third, 83rd)

LG Chris Watt, San Diego Chargers (third, 89th)

LB Prince Shembo, Atlanta Falcons (fourth, 139th)

CB Bennett Jackson, New York Giants (sixth, 187th)

WR TJ Jones, Detroit Lions (sixth, 189th)

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

RB George Atkinson III, Oakland Raiders

LB Dan Fox, New York Giants

LB Carlo Calabrese, Cleveland Browns

QB Tommy Rees, Washington Redskins

NG Kona Schwenke, Kansas City Chiefs

C/G Mike Golic Jr., New Orleans Saints

Recapping Friday's 'The Echoes'

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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Brian Kelly's bigger workload was on display already Friday night, when the Notre Dame head coach presented not one, not two, not three, but four different awards during the Irish's awards banquet, named "The Echoes" for the second straight year.

He did say on Saturday, however, that he does not expect any more of his assistants to leave, and that was seemingly confirmed shortly afterward by defensive line coach Mike Elston, whose first-ever tweet was the announcement he's staying at Notre Dame. (There had been some chatter that he could follow Bob Diaco to UConn to become the Huskies' defensive coordinator.)

As for the awards show, TJ Jones took home team MVP honors in a team vote that Kelly said wasn't even close. (Yours truly had predicted Jones as the winner beforehand, just as he had predicted the correct final score of the Stanford game.)

Jones easily took home best-dressed honors on the night, wearing a burgundy suit with a bowtie and some hipster glasses. Corey Robinson and Chris Watt were among the bowtie-wearers as well.

The biggest news, or non-news, of the night came when Stephon Tuitt met with the media afterward, saying he remains undecided on his future.

As for the big winners on Friday...
There was also in-show fan voting for best hit and best catch honors, which went to Tuitt and Jones for their plays against USC.

Irish lunch links

November, 25, 2013
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Notre Dame prediction: Game 11 vs. BYU

November, 22, 2013
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Can Notre Dame make it 4-0 on Senior Day under Brian Kelly?

When BYU has the ball: As you may have heard, the Cougars like to pick up the tempo on offense. They are fourth in the nation in total plays, having run 868 on the season. That's an average of 86.8 per game. By comparison, Notre Dame runs 64.6 plays per game. Taysom Hill is a threat at all times on the field, and likely the most effective dual-threat quarterback the Irish will have faced this year, as he is second among quarterbacks with 956 rushing yards this season. His favorite target, Cody Hoffman, had a nice day last year in South Bend, Ind., catching eight balls for 86 yards and a touchdown.

When Notre Dame has the ball: Who emerges from the backfield this week is anyone's guess, though a nice run game could help keep a depleted defense off the field a bit more against a BYU offense that moves at a rapid pace. Tommy Rees and TJ Jones have been a reliable connection all season long, and look for them to keep that going in their home finales against a good but not great defense. The continued emergence of Ben Koyack in the passing game can help open things up for the rest of the aerial attack, too.

Intangible: This is Senior Day, so the Irish need to guard against the emotions and potential sloppy play in the early going. They also need to rely on a lot of people to chip in defensively, especially with Louis Nix III now out and his backup, Kona Schwenke, at less than 100 percent. BYU knows it was a missed pass away from pulling out an upset against the Irish late last season, and the Cougars are determined to finish the job this time around.

Prediction: BYU 23, Notre Dame 20. I was leaning in the Irish's direction earlier this week, but the loss of Nix -- on top of some of the other guys at less than 100 percent -- is just too much to overcome against this good, and this fast, of a Cougars team.

Irish not practicing during bye week

November, 12, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly was wise to avoid a potentially fatal marketing opportunity when talking about Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell.

"They're in our new line of shoewear called 'The Boot,' " Kelly said Tuesday of his defensive linemen. "They're wearing boots right now. They both have ankle sprains, so we're day-to-day with those guys right now."

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsBrian Kelly says the Irish won't practice at all during this bye week in hopes of being healthy for Nov. 23 against BYU.
Adidas is probably not in a rush to release such footwear for next year's Shamrock Series tilt -- where and whenever that might be -- but the injuries do underscore another issue facing Notre Dame from the fallout of its 28-21 loss at Pitt.

The Irish will not practice during this week's bye, Kelly said, the first time he has avoided bye-week practicing in his 23 years as a head coach.

"The guys that I would be practicing, we need," Kelly said. "They need to play a considerable amount of time for us against BYU and Stanford. We're just at that point where, look, if I knew going out and practicing two or three days was going to benefit us greatly in the BYU game, I'd be out there right now and we would not be talking. But it's in my estimation we could have a situation with diminished returns that would put us in jeopardy, so we're conditioning them hard. Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday will be the bulk of our work."

Kelly said that it is not all that different from the Irish's last bye week, following the Oct. 5 win against Arizona State, saying that the team held just one full practice then. But the fourth-year Notre Dame coach does need a few guys to get healthy again for their next contest, Nov. 23 against BYU.

Among the latest casualties was center Nick Martin, who broke his snapping hand in the first quarter of Saturday's contest but played through it the rest of the night.

He can play with a cast if need be.

"He's got a boxer's fracture, which as I'm told is a fracture right at the knuckle," Kelly said. "We're going to cast it, and he's working on it right now and he wants to play and we think we can make it work."

As for the other walking wounded, nose guard Kona Schwenke was slated to get the cast off his high ankle sprain Tuesday afternoon after suffering the injury late in the Nov. 2 win over Navy, while linebacker Ishaq Williams' ACL injury has been upgraded from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1 -- presumably sprain -- and he might be ready for the Irish's next contest.

"Is he 100 percent? Probably not," Kelly said. "But we're hopeful that he's going to be able to contribute."

It's next-man-in, and then some, for Irish

November, 4, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Brian Kelly was finishing up his postgame press conference Saturday, an unexpected visitor made an appearance during the penultimate question.

"Jaylon, we'll be done in a second," Kelly said to Jaylon Smith, who had entered prematurely. "I know it's your press conference, but I'll be done in a second, and we'll let you get going. Is that all right?"

"Sorry," Smith said to the room of reporters. "I'm new to everything."

Within 24 hours, it turned out the freshman linebacker would be a seasoned veteran by Notre Dame's defense's standards. The Irish are hurting on that side of the ball -- just trying to get by, in a sense, with this weekend's game at Pitt preceding a much-needed bye before a two-game stretch against BYU and at Stanford.

[+] EnlargeEilar Hardy
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSafety Eliar Hardy (left) is one of several Notre Dame reserves that were pressed into action due to injuries.
BCS dreams have essentially taken a backseat to figuring out just who is going to play and where, and how the remaining available guy will get ready for when their time comes.

"I think this is probably close to the pinnacle," Kelly said during Sunday's teleconference when asked if this defense has been hit as hard as any he's had in 23 years as a head coach. He added: "They don't give you any points for complaining about it. If they did, I'd complain every minute. So we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."

Ben Councell, the man behind Smith most of the season at the dog linebacker spot, was ruled out for the season Sunday after suffering a significant knee injury in the 38-34 win over Navy. Smith and Councell, of course, waged a preseason battle for a starting spot only after senior Danny Spond, last season's starter, was forced to retire because of hemiplegic migraines. And the linebacking corp is less than a month removed from its other big hit, when Jarrett Grace broke his leg in the Oct. 5 Arizona State game, costing the Mike linebacker the rest of his redshirt sophomore season.

It only gets worse up front, where Kona Schwenke is lost for at least this Saturday's game at Pitt because of a high-ankle sprain suffered on the Midshipmen's final drive. And Schwenke was only starting these last two games in place of nose guard Louis Nix III, who at first was ruled to have a shoulder injury suffered in the USC game, and then knee tendinitis, and now tendinitis and a small meniscus tear, though the school says he will practice this week after undergoing an MRI Sunday. Before that, Schwenke filled in for end Sheldon Day, who missed most of a three-game stretch after leaving a Sept. 14 game against Purdue with a high ankle sprain, and then re-aggravated said ankle sprain against Navy.

And no, it is not a coincidence that most of these injuries have come during this two-game stretch against Air Force and Navy, teams that often cut-block.

"It's unfortunate," Kelly said. "It's the style of offense that the academies play. It is what it is."

Kelly said it will make sense to possibly avoid scheduling multiple option teams in a single season, but that is a bridge he will cross when he gets to it. For now, his next-man-in philosophy is being tested by, well, a lack of next-men-in.

He said he guards against that by putting those who saw 15 or fewer plays in a game through extra conditioning that following Monday, while reserves get roughly half the work of the starters during 11-on-11 and scout team work in a given week.

"I think that we're so close that you don't really think about it in terms of, Oh, I've never seen you out here," redshirt senior linebacker Dan Fox said. "We get a lot of guys in at practice, there's a lot of reps to go around, so next man in and next man in."

Underclassmen such as Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara have been thrust into more meaningful time than most could have reasonably expected entering the season, while names unfamiliar to all but the closest of program observers -- Tyler Stockton, Justin Utupo and Eilar Hardy, to name a few -- saw extended action.

The last of those names, Hardy, helped set Smith up for the game-clinching tackle on Navy's Shawn Lynch during the visitors' final fourth-and-4 try. And he was only there because Austin Collinsworth suffered a neck strain that will require an MRI Monday.

Fellow safety Elijah Shumate, meanwhile, is expected to play against the Panthers after being sidelined the last three games with a hamstring injury, though Kelly had said the sophomore would play going into the Navy game, too.

There are also the knee injuries to left guard Chris Watt (PCL) and cat linebacker Ishaq Williams (ACL), both of whom left the Air Force game a week ago but only one of whom, Watt, could possibly return this week, depending on how quickly the redshirt senior can acclimate to the knee, which will not require surgery. Williams was in an immobilizer this week and could possibly return for the Nov. 23 BYU game.

The return of Watt would give Notre Dame four of its five starters back on the offensive line, as it lost right guard Christian Lombard for the season because of back surgery after the USC game. Still, the bruises have taken their biggest tolls on the other line, which during the spring and summer lost reserves Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and Tony Springmann (knee) for the season, in addition to seeing freshman signee Eddie Vanderdoes leave for UCLA.

All of it leaves the Irish, winners of four in a row, crawling to the finish line, every last piece of Kelly's three straight top-10 recruiting classes fitting into the plan for his push toward a second straight BCS-bowl berth.

"We are running out of next men. We're at that point where from a defensive standpoint, and particularly the defensive line, we're left with very few options," Kelly said, adding, "We'll figure something out. We'll get 11 guys out there. It's just not going to be one of those things where we're going to have the same group of guys out there all the time. As you know, we're going to have to find a way to stop a big, physical offensive line at Pittsburgh, and that is the thing that concerns you the most."

Week 10 helmet stickers

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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These three stood out in Notre Dame's 38-34 win over Navy.

Tarean Folston, RB: The freshman had a career day, rushing for 140 yards on 18 carries and taking it in for what proved to be the game-winning score with 3:47 left in the fourth quarter. Folston at times looked lethal running the ball and showed a flash of just how good he could be for the Irish in the years to come.

TJ Jones, WR: The senior captain has quite the collection of stickers from the blog after another strong performance. Jones caught four passes for 111 yards and a touchdown as he continues to carry a passing offense that has found more playmakers in recent weeks. Jones described his chemistry with Tommy Rees as something like a sixth sense, and that has proven beneficial for the Irish this season.

Kona Schwenke, DL: Another start for Schwenke paved the way for a career day, capped by a team-high 11 tackles. The senior left the game on Navy's final drive with an undisclosed injury, further testing the defensive line's depth. But he has more than made his mark when given the opportunity to so far this season.

Irish lunch links

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Congrats, Boston. And Happy Halloween to all!

Day happy to return from ankle sprain

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It seemed as if every time Sheldon Day took a step forward from his ankle sprain, a setback would soon follow.

He warmed up before the Michigan State game on Sept. 21 after leaving the Purdue game a week earlier, but he ended up needing another week. Another week — and another warmup — came before the Oklahoma game, then Day tweaked the ankle prior to kickoff, forcing him to miss his second straight game as reserve nose guard Kona Schwenke again slid over and took his place.

Coach Brian Kelly then said two days before the Arizona State game that Day would definitely play, but the sophomore ended up leaving the field after the game's first snap.

A bye week since has appeared to be the perfect medicine for the 290-pound defensive end as he readies for a return in Saturday's primetime affair with USC.

"I feel like last week during the bye week I became really confident in my ankle, and just the things that I can do, my abilities and just the little things," Day said of when he finally felt healthy.

Day, who suffered the injury late in a Week 3 win at Purdue, said the view from the sideline gave him a different perspective on the game and his position, as he would regularly help explain to younger fill-ins like Isaac Rochell what he saw on certain plays.

He thinks the time off allowed him to shore up some loose ends of his own, too.

"Just definitely my hand placement," Day said. "I feel like when I was playing, I was kind of losing my hand placement, going everywhere, and I've been focusing on that and just getting back to the little things."

The Indianapolis native sat with a smile on his face throughout Wednesday night's session with reporters, happy to put behind the injury that had him so close yet so far these past three games. He's finally ready to reclaim his starting role along the defensive line.

"I feel like it's just a nice little process," Day said. "You never know where the process ends up or how long the process will take. But at the end of the day, it's all about feeling your best."

Notre Dame defense responds to challenge

September, 23, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly challenged his defense last week. The message got through as clear as any through four games.

Notre Dame trotted out three new defensive starters for Saturday's game against Michigan State. The Irish then bottled up the Spartans better than they had any opponent in 2013.

"It wasn't just at one position," Kelly said Sunday. "It was really at three levels: the defensive line, linebacker and and defensive backs. We saw on Saturday all three of those things show themselves. We'll now need to see that on a consistent basis."

That is the main question moving forward for this unit after holding Michigan State to just 254 yards of total offense. Oklahoma, on-deck this week for a rematch of last year's Irish upset, is not exactly the Spartans, though just how lethal the Sooners' offense is remains unclear through three games.

Oklahoma averages 490.3 yards 33.7 points per game, albeit against opponents with a combined 2-6 record against FCS opponents this season. The Sooners have already made a quarterback change, as Blake Bell replaced Trevor Knight in Week 3 after losing the battle to Knight in camp.

"Who is going to show up now is really going to be what we're asking," Kelly said of his defense. "Are we going to see the group that showed itself against Michigan State consistently or the group that we saw the last couple weeks that played hot and cold? We're going to look for that consistency now from our defense."

Elijah Shumate and Austin Collinsworth started together Saturday at safety. Matthias Farley, who normally starts alongside either of the two, ended up grabbing the game's lone takeaway with his third-quarter interception. Jarrett Grace got the start over fifth-year senior Dan Fox and tied for a team-high with eight tackles. Senior Kona Schwenke, meanwhile, started with Sheldon Day sidelined because of an ankle sprain.

Stephon Tuitt looked like his old self, too, tallying six tackles, one sack and one hurry.

Day is expected back this week. Whether this unit has finally turned a corner after struggling early to live up to the standards of last year's defense remains to be seen, though Saturday was certainly a start.

"I think we responded tremendously our energy was up as a defensive unit," captain Bennett Jackson said. "Guys were flying around to the ball. And we pride ourselves on having high energy, and thats something that Coach was pushing throughout the week of practice, and we came out and executed well."

Nix steals show again as Irish finish spring

April, 22, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Big Louis Nix entered the media room in Notre Dame Stadium and was immediately intercepted by sports information director Michael Bertsch.

"You know quarterbacks go to the podium," Bertsch said.

Up Nix went to the center of the cramped room, facing a throng of media members who generally hang on his every word anyway, given the fourth-year junior's penchant for saying whatever in the world is on his mind at that moment.

One such instance came early in the 2012 season, when Nix explained how younger brother Kenneth, one of his 13 siblings, had told classmates during a presentation in Jacksonville, Fla., that his big brother was the Fighting Irish's quarterback.

Nix had no idea where that idea came from, but then joked that he would love to be inserted as a Wildcat-only signal caller in the "Irish Chocolate" package, an ode to his nickname.

His dream came to fruition during the fourth quarter of Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring game Saturday before 31,652 fans, as Nix lined up in the backfield for a two-point conversion following the game's only touchdown. He took the shotgun snap and galloped into the end zone untouched for the score, continuing the roll he has been on in the past year.

"I really am a quarterback," Nix said. "I told you guys it would happen and it did."

That was Louis Nix being Louis Nix; as he provided a refreshing spark to a ho-hum exhibition on a 38-degree April afternoon. He was Notre Dame's best defensive player on the nation's biggest stage this past Jan. 7 against Alabama, and he was the anchor of a defense that happened to feature the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

By playing even bigger than his out-sized personality -- a trait that turned his every word into a soundbite and made his video news series a YouTube sensation -- Nix faced a decision that would have changed the lives of everyone back inside his family's three-bedroom home.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLouis Nix capped off Notre Dame's spring game with a two-point conversion in the Blue-Gold Game.
Last spring Nix publicly expressed feelings of homesickness, as he fell into a rut and lost his spot on the first team to Kona Schwenke. But the film, television and theatre major thought back to senior night four years ago at Raines (Fla.) High School, when he was the only player who took the field without a loved one. His mom, Stephanie Wingfield had a shift at a hospital cafeteria that night and cried when she found out her son had taken the field alone. She begged him to stay in college, earn his degree and celebrate senior day with her.

The decision to stay ensures that the senior day moment will happen. The play that highlighted Saturday's scrimmage served as proof that he is on the right track in the classroom.

Nix's two-point conversion was the result of an academic wager he made with head coach Brian Kelly, who credited the conversion to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and his new responsibilities as play-caller heading into the 2013 season.

"He surprised me, and so I paid up," Kelly said of Nix. "I said, 'What do you want?' I figured he would want something. He came up: 'I want to score a touchdown in the spring game.' As you know, we had a hard time scoring touchdowns in the spring game and I didn't think that was going to come to reality."

So Nix went up to quarterback Malik Zaire with 14:05 left in the contest, ordering the early-enrollee to get him to the promised land. Six plays and four minutes, 55 seconds later, C.J. Prosise was in the end zone with a 35-yard touchdown reception, allowing the blue-jerseyed Nix to step into the huddle with his white-jerseyed teammates. It set off a minor social media celebration of a FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN. (Or, in this case, a FAT GUY CONVERSION.)

Is this something Temple needs to scheme against come the teams' Aug. 31 opener?

"That's what all teams need to be scared of. Everybody needs to be scared of Irish Chocolate," Nix said.

"Everyone," he continued, staring at the reporter who had inquired, "including you."

The defense charged with stopping the play certainly seemed scared, though it adjusted enough to keep the new quarterback from beating them with his arm.

"I just made a few checks or whatever. You couldn't hear them. They were silent checks," Nix said. "I just told them where to line up, give me a nice pass-block. My O-line did a great job, that's why I was successful."

Or simply because he looked up, stared at nothing but daylight and entered a state of shock, with linebacker Kendall Moore getting the heck out of the way once Nix committed to running straight ahead.

"I saw fear in his eyes," Nix said of Moore.

George Atkinson III said afterward that Everett Golson should worry about losing his job. Fellow defenders expressed relief that they will never have to face Nix again.

But that might not be the case, not if Nix continues to ride this surge.

"It's a dream of mine to happen [in a game], hopefully it does -- hopefully Coach thinks I can handle the ball," he said.

"I'm 305 right now," the listed 347-pounder deadpanned. "If I gain a few pounds, maybe he'll just hand me the ball off."

Louis Nix back to old self after flu bout

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The reporter had a rather delicate way of asking how Notre Dame's medical staff accommodates 6-foot-3, 326-pound students.

Not that Louis Nix minds.

"The bed was a decent size, but i didn't complain," the nose guard laughed. "I don't mind it."

Yes, Nix is laughing and joking and having fun. This is a good thing for the Irish, because he wasn't such happy company to be around a week ago.

Flu-like symptoms kept the redshirt sophomore overnight in the infirmary one day last week, and he didn't think the Pitt game would be on his agenda. He talked with coach Brian Kelly on the field beforehand, saying he wasn't himself. Kelly took note, and then replacement Kona Schwenke hurt his shoulder early on, leaving the Irish with little choice.

Nix played most of the game, finishing with four tackles and half a sack.

"It's like going into a gunfight with a pair of scissors," Nix said of playing without a full week of practice. "You're not prepared. I wasn't prepared but I did my best and I just did what I usually do in a regular game: I read my keys. I did that to the best of my ability. I guess I was rigth on some plays, wrong on some plays, but as long as you just going full-speed that eliminates all of that."

Said Kelly: "When got in there, he played very well. He played really gutsy. He was not feeling well. He would come over to the sideline, you could tell that he was not feeling very well."

Nix said he had no reservations about stepping in when Schwenke went down, and the rest this past Sunday and Monday brought him has the run-stuffer back to his normal self heading into Saturday night's game at Boston College.

As if his presence around others wasn't already a dead give-away.

"My teachers got wind of it, they knew something was wrong with me," Nix said of last week, "because if you don't see me smiling and laughing and jumping around, there's something wrong with me, and that's what it ended up being."

Ties run beyond independence for BYU, ND

October, 19, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- This edition of the BYU-Notre Dame series was born on the day the Cougars declared their independence, which will turn two years old when these teams square off Saturday.

The ties run a bit deeper than the pair's lack of conference membership in football, though. The private, religious affiliations of each adds another layer for an Irish squad that boasts a small handful of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"All of them have felt very comfortable in the community," coach Brian Kelly said. "I don't know what the dynamic is, but it just seems that there's a reaching out that has taken place in their time here, and it's made it, I think, a great transition for those kids."

Manti Te'o, Kona Schwenke and Chris Badger all are LDS members, with Badger returning to Notre Dame this year following his two-year Mormon mission.

Much has been made of Te'o's path to Notre Dame over BYU and childhood favorite USC, a decision he says he had prayed on. His cousin, Jray Galea'i, is a student assistant with the Cougars after chronic injuries forced him to quit his role as a defensive back.

"We wanted Manti," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We thought he was an excellent player. It was a heavy recruiting race. He had an official visit, saw everything that we had to offer, and really didn’t want BYU. Certainly our evaluation as a player was right; he’s very good."

Notre Dame, in some ways, has provided a template for football independence for BYU, which, in some ways, fashions itself as the Notre Dame of the West. The Irish and the Cougars announced their series upon the latter's defection from the Mountain West Conference, with Notre Dame scheduled to host BYU again next season before they each host a pair of games between 2014-20, with the dates to be determined.

His team continuing its pursuit of perfection, Te'o's one and only shot against BYU won't add to the intrigue Saturday -- despite the irony behind his analogy.

"It's just game seven," Te'o said. "I think I said this before: When you start to do things differently than you've done in the past, then bad things start to happen."

ND's spring breakout players

May, 21, 2012
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Who made names for themselves this spring? Glad you asked.

RB/WR Theo Riddick: Riddick seemed more comfortable this spring, as the learning curve from playing two different positions is all but gone and he is ready to make plays. The senior stood out during several intrasquad scrimmages. If Riddick can be an effective punt returner this fall, he can be the complete package for the Irish.

WR John Goodman: It's not often you see a fifth-year senior on lists like these, but Goodman, as coach Brian Kelly said, was the Irish's go-to guy this spring, and he served as an offensive captain in the Blue-Gold game as a result of being the unit's most improved player. No longer in the shadow of Michael Floyd and with one last chance to succeed after being invited back for another year, Goodman is primed for a breakout season this fall.

NG Kona Schwenke: Like Goodman, Schwenke was a captain in the Blue-Gold game, winning most improved defensive player honors while temporarily supplanting Louis Nix from the starting spot in the middle. He added some weight and improved his handwork, and he figures to see plenty of snaps next season, regardless of whether or not he starts.

LB Ishaq Williams: Kelly revealed that Williams went home to Brooklyn, N.Y., for a few days in the winter to think about his future. He has apparently come back with a new focus, as the rising sophomore had a strong spring, filling in for the injured Prince Shembo at the cat position and coming up with a pick and a fumble recovery in the spring game.

LB Jarrett Grace: Playing time may be hard to come by -- he is, after all, backing up a likely first-round draft pick in Manti Te'o -- but Grace has made the most of his opportunities. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco loved him this spring, and, after redshirting his freshman season, Grace figures to spell Te'o every now and then this fall while also seeing duties on special teams.

Roster breakdown: Defense

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
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Our breakdown of Notre Dame's 2012 roster continues today with the defensive side of the ball.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The players: Aaron Lynch, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell, Sheldon Day, Tyler Stockton, Kona Schwenke

The incoming: Jarron Jones, Romeo Okwara

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTackle Louis Nix is a key cog in what should be a strong, experienced defensive line for Notre Dame.
The breakdown: Injuries forced all three current starters — Lynch, Nix and Tuitt — to play much more than expected last season, and none disappointed. They are all second-year players now, and their pass-rushing ability should have opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks on their heels. Lewis-Moore has been cleared for spring following a season-ending knee injury in 2011 but might not start, though he will likely see plenty of playing time as the line rotates. Hounshell (shoulder surgery) is not cleared yet, but he will likely see significant time this fall after playing as a true freshman last year as well.

LINEBACKERS

The players: Danny Spond, Manti Te'o, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, Kendall Moore, Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa, Carlo Calabrese, Jarrett Grace, Justin Utopo, Connor Little, Ben Councell, Joe Schmidt

The incoming: None

The breakdown: As we said with Tyler Eifert yesterday, everyone knows what Te'o is capable of, as he likely would have been a first-round NFL draft pick had he left school following his junior year. Fox and Calabrese shared the other inside role last year, and their experience should prove valuable. Shembo has been working at the cat spot this spring, and up-and-coming talents like Williams and Spond figure to see extensive playing time.

SECONDARY

The players: Bennett Jackson, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson, Austin Collinsworth, Dan McCarthy, Jalen Brown, Cam McDaniel, Eilar Hardy, Chris Salvi, Joe Romano, Will Salvi, Connor Cavalaris, Matthias Farley, Blake Breslau

The incoming: Elijah Shumate, Nicky Baratti, C.J. Prosise, John Turner

The breakdown: The loss of Tee Shepard really stings this group, which is down to four scholarship corners with a combined zero career starts. Jackson and Wood are in position to take over as the new starters, and playing time last season should help with the transition. At safety, Slaughter and Motta saw plenty of time the last two seasons, and Slaughter in particular has shown a nose for the ball and the capability of providing a leadership force that Harrison Smith is leaving behind. Collinsworth will likely also see plenty of snaps after playing last year.

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