Oct. 9, 2001
JOHN HEISLER: Just a couple of quick notes. Kickoff this week is at 1:39 in South Bend. For those of you connected via satellite, we’ll have about six minutes of highlights from the Notre Dame Pittsburgh game at the end of our feed today. We also understand there are some audio difficulties and those are being addressed as we speak.
Don’t forget or Sunday wrap up with Coach Davie is at 1:00 on Sundays after each game. Coach Davie is here, he’ll make some opening comments and take some questions.
COACH DAVIE: I think obviously every week is important, but this week for us I think is especially important because we do have what amounts to some momentum right now, in my mind. I think we showed some improvement against Pittsburgh. We’ve got an opportunity to play the next two games at home. So I think this is a critical stretch for us right now to get things back on track.
You know, I think our football team feels better about itself right now obviously after the win. It’s a lot easier to coach coming off a win. Just momentum is a funny thing. And certainly you about get to the point where there’s not much more you can say, you need to win a game.
So obviously this is important for us, to play these next two games in our stadium and improve as a team. That’s as simple as the goal is.
As far as injuries, we have a couple injuries. I think Jeff Faine will be okay. He didn’t practice yesterday, may not practice today, but I expect him to be back.
Tony Fisher, you know, I’m not sure. I think Tony, because of the kind of kid he is, as tough as he is, certainly gives him an opportunity to play. He ran good straight ahead yesterday. It’s still not a hundred percent.
Gerome Sapp is probably 50/50 for the game at best. I would say Ron Israel is probably 50/50 for the game at best.
Other than that, you know, Grant Irons, I expect Grant to be back, he practiced last night. Clifford Jefferson practiced last night. I expect him to be back.
We’re fairly healthy. Anxious to see to see if we can get better. Right now’s the time that we need to move forward and get better.
West Virginia, everyone that was down there last year in Morgantown remembers that game. They’re a talented team, particularly at the skilled positions. They have a runningback that’s just been outstanding for them. Seems like he’s been playing forever. They have their receivers back, No. 88, No. 21, talented guys. Little No. 5 is back, who last year we really had a hard time containing. So they’ve got three receivers back. Their quarterback is back from last year who was injured in our game.
Defensively, they’re always a physical defense. You know, they changed on defense from a defense that was very similar to ours to an eight?man front, Virginia Tech scheme. Offensively they’ve left the I formation. They’ve gone to four widespread. Similar in some ways to Pittsburgh, but I think a lot more fast tempo. You know, they’re also no huddle. They’re going to be up at the line of scrimmage, I think picking the tempo of the game up.
I notice somewhere where the theme of their offense is: Spot the ball. That means, “Let’s put the ball down and let’s go play.” They’re a team that tries to get 90 to a hundred plays a game. When you’re spreading it out all over the field, certainly you’re going to be asking a lot of kids to be running on defense and reacting.
Kind of are where we are. It’s time to just keep trying to get better. I think we have an opportunity to do that right now.
John, we can take some questions.
JOHN HEISLER: Take some questions from people on the telephone.
Q. Doing a story on scout teams. I wonder how important the scout teams are to game day preparations?
COACH DAVIE: Well, I think the answer to that is pretty obvious. You know, we talk a lot about our scout teams. For instance, on the Texas A&M trip, we took Jason Halvorson and Jeffrey Campbell, two of our scout team walk-ons, on the trip, over several scholarship players because they did such a great job on the scout team. They’re very important.
I think what we do with our scout teams, they actually are just like a team, offense and defense. Our graduate assistants meet with them. While the varsity, so to speak, watches tape of the opponent’s offense, that scout team would watch tape of the opponent’s defense. They really do simulate the team you’re playing. We, in fact, grade them. We grade the scout team every night because, you know, it’s best for us, but it’s also good for them because you show an awful lot of improvement being on the scout team.
I think sometimes young players that don’t get the opportunity to be on the scout team, sometimes later in their career they don’t show quite the development of some of those guys that really had to get down there and work their tail off do.
So I think they’re important, particularly now in the age of less scholarships. They’re made up of walk?on players.
Those guys do an incredible job. We couldn’t function down here without walk?ons and without scout teams.
Q. You just alluded to what a crucial stretch this is for your team, trying to get back on track. I was wondering, the next two games obviously are of no less importance than anything you have left on your schedule, but will a game that usually carries the luster of a Southern Cal game have a little less luster on it because the struggles both teams have gone through?
COACH DAVIE: I don’t think so. If you had a chance to be at the Notre Dame?USC game, it’s a game that I enjoy probably most of all of all the games. You know, there’s always great pageantry, always great excitement, always great athletes on the field. I don’t think this year will be any different.
If you look at both teams, I think both teams have played extremely difficult schedules. Both teams have a chance late in the season to be good football teams. So I don’t think any of that will be missing.
Obviously, it’s not No. 1 versus 2. But I think if you walk in Notre Dame stadium next week, you’ll see there will be a full house and plenty of excitement. I don’t think it will take away from that game.
Q. You have indicated before that Duff is now running ahead of Jefferson. If Sapp and Israel are questionable, what is this going to look like, what is the secondary going to look like this week? Are you going to run more nickel? How are you going to line it up?
COACH DAVIE: Well, you know, they’re going to spread the field. They basically play about 70% of the time with four wide receivers in the game. It’s a little bit different than Pittsburgh that was one tight end and three wide receivers. So they’re going to spread you out. Obviously, you’re going to be in a lot of nickel, you’ll be in a lot of dime, which is six defensive backs.
You know, we’ve got some depth back there in the secondary. You know, we haven’t really had ?? Glenn Earl last week was the first week he had been healthy. Gerome Sapp sprained his ankle in camp. He has been out most of the year. Ron Israel has had problems. We’ve been down a little bit, but fortunately we have enough numbers.
Vontez Duff is going to start at corner, regardless. It just depends how Ron Israel does this week. He’s a little bit better right now. I think if he’s healthy, he would probably start, but certainly Abe Elam is going to play and Gerome Sapp is going to play, if he’s available. Both those guys are experienced players, when you talk about Gerome Sapp and Ron Israel. It really comes down to them just being healthy.
I have no reservations about Abe Elam and certainly Vontez Duff has earned a starting spot on this team.
Q. My question is about Carlyle Holiday and his continued development. With him being the team’s second leading rusher, is that in any way a concern for you? I know that it’s good that he’s able to show that he’s been able to run the ball, but I would think as a quarterback you’d want to maybe try to stress to him at some point the need to remain in the pocket and to particularly be able to develop in terms of throwing the football. What are your thoughts on that, please?
COACH DAVIE: I’ve think first of all the reason we went with Carlyle is he’s able to create plays on his own. Certainly we don’t want to stifle I guess you’d say his creativity and his ability to make plays.
I think what we’ve talked to Carlyle about this week and in his development is protecting the football when he scrambles. He has a bit of a habit of carrying the football real high and away from his body. The second thing is he seems to stand straight up and tries to run people over, takes shots that are unnecessary. We’ve talked to him about playing in a better football position.
I think you’re going to see his development as a passer. Last night in practice, I thought he already showed signs of improving as a passer. He really does have a strong arm. He really is pretty far along right now for a young guy in the passing game. He’s pretty composed back there.
I don’t really worry about him scrambling. In fact, we kind of encourage it because I think he has some amazing ability with the ball in his hand.
Q. (Inaudible) coordinator said during the Notre Dame game he thought you guys were all over the place offensively and have settled into something pretty simple, that you’ve gotten better each game. Do you think that’s a fair assessment and is that something you felt you needed to do?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, I think that’s probably a fair assessment. I think also, you know, Phil would realize that us playing Nebraska the first game, their style of defense I think causes you to do some things a little bit out of the ordinary, stretch the field. It’s very difficult to line up against Nebraska, two backs, particularly with their background in option football. Their defense is really geared, at least early on, to stop the offense. So it’s difficult.
We did do some things for us that were out of the ordinary against Nebraska. Then when we didn’t have success in the Nebraska game, we may have, you know, all good intentioned, but we may have panicked a little bit coming home against Michigan State, and certainly don’t want to take the game out of our players’ hands. We tried to go back and firmly execute what we did last year.
Against Texas A&M, we made the quarterback change. We thought that gave us the best chance to win right now. We showed improvement in the Pittsburgh game.
He’s watched us on tape a lot. I think that’s probably a fair assessment. I do think we’re getting better right now.
Q. Given the change to West Virginia’s eight?man front defense, are you surprised at their inability to stop the run so far this year?
COACH DAVIE: You know, I don’t know enough about them. I know they’ve played some good teams, as well. I really can’t answer that. You know, I don’t pretend to be an expert on West Virginia’s defense.
Q. You played Pittsburgh last week, West Virginia this week. I apologize for this question. When you play a Big East team, the fact that Notre Dame is in the Big East for everything else but football, do you sense a school like West Virginia, these guys take it a little more seriously when they’re playing Notre Dame in an effort to stick it to you guys?
COACH DAVIE: Well, I think, let’s make no mistake about it, we try to stick it to them, too. We can’t try any harder or get any more excited than we are. I’m sure I’d be disappointed if they weren’t the same way.
I think all that’s overrated. You know, when you play 11 games a year, when you’re around these players as much as I am, you see that they have a whole lot invested. I don’t think anyone needs any additional motivation. I really don’t think that’s any factor.
Q. Address the impact that Dave Lockwood has had on your secondary? What does he bring to your coaching staff?
COACH DAVIE: I really like David. I think, first of all, he brings a background of having been an excellent player himself. I think that’s really important, particularly at positions like corner and wide receiver. There’s an awful lot of nuances that they can coach.
I think second of all, he’s really a good family man. I’ve met all of his family. You know, he’s a sharp guy. I think we’re very fortunate to have him on our staff.
I think from a technique standpoint, he does an excellent job coaching particularly the corners, and he’s added a lot to our coaching staff.
You know, he’s still a pretty good player. One day after practice, I kind of surprised him. We have a receiver coach on our staff by the name of Joker Phillips who was a heck of a player at Kentucky. I had heard so much about this guy being a great player, that guy being a great player, I got our whole team lined up on the sidelines and put David man?to?man coverage, bump?n?run, on Joker Phillips. He just snuffed him out, just snuffed him out. He certainly gained the respect of our players, so he can still play as well.
JOHN HEISLER: We’ll take some questions here in person.
Q. If I ask Joker about that, what will he say?
COACH DAVIE: He’ll say he slipped on the wet grass.
Q. Arnaz Battle had said that he might be back or felt like he could be back for USC. Where is he?
COACH DAVIE: You know, I’m not sure. I think it’s still too far in the future right now. I know it’s kind of a week?to?week thing. I just haven’t asked him myself. I think it’s several weeks away.
Q. Gary Godsey, John Owens, not a big part of the passing game, but always a big part of the running game. How have they graded out at this point at tight end?
COACH DAVIE: They’ve played about like you would expect a first?year guy to play. I think John has been a little bit hesitant, probably a little bit concerned about making mistakes. He’s got a lot of ability as a blocker. He’s getting better as a blocker, but you can tell he hasn’t played a whole lot.
Gary, probably the same way. You know, both of them are just a little bit cautious. I think that comes from just not having a lot of experience. But they’re doing adequate. I would say that. We’ve been somewhat pleased with them.
Q. Gary’s transition from quarterback, is the physical part of it the most difficult part for him, play after play being physical?
COACH DAVIE: I think so. You know, but he’s done really well. I mean, even last year when we moved him, you know, he’s a good athlete. He played basketball in high school. He’s a tough kid. He trusts us, that that’s the best move for him.
It’s been really a pretty easy transition. For a guy to step up who was a starting quarterback this time a year ago, now being a starting tight end, I think he’s doing fine. Putting weight on for him has never been a problem. Got up to 265.
Q. Your team was on the field for the national anthem before the game. Was that your decision? Was that a school decision?
COACH DAVIE: It’s one thing about Notre Dame, you know, if you wait a week, there’s always another issue that’s going to make you forget about an issue from the week before. That’s kind of the plan (laughter).
It was really a joint decision by the University and by the athletic department. I agreed with it. I thought that was great being out there on the field. You know, I think it was kind of neat. I think our players enjoyed it, as well.
Q. The plan is to continue to do that?
COACH DAVIE: We are going to continue to do that, yeah. John, if I’m not mistaken, we’ve sent a letter to all of our opponents saying that we are going to be out there, and certainly give them the opportunity to be out there, as well.
Q. From a head football coach’s standpoint, pregame standpoint, what do you have to do differently now? Give your final instructions ten minutes earlier? What adjustments do you have to make?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, it’s really nothing. Everything is about five minutes a little bit sooner. It really causes us no difference. In fact, we went out for pregame exactly the same time as we always did. Instead of being in there 20 minutes, in the locker room before the game, we were only in there 15 minutes and came out five minutes earlier. From a mechanic standpoint, it’s nothing.
Q. You don’t feel it affects your immediate pregame enthusiasm running out of the tunnel?
COACH DAVIE: No. It’s a little different with the band out there, obviously you kind of have to go around. I think, truth being known, all of that is pretty insignificant.
Q. With Vontez starting this week, could you talk about his recruitment from Texas, and also the decision to switch him from tailback?
COACH DAVIE: Vontez is a heck of a kid. He’s from Killeen, Texas. His mom worked at the air base there. She did a heck of a job raising him.
Highly recruited. Came here as a runningback. Probably could be a runningback. But for us to win consistently, we have to have those kind of athletes at corner. That story has been worn out talking about that. He’s one of those guys we had to make a decision with early to get him in a position so he could play. It takes a little bit of time to become comfortable back there and be able to play the position. So I think now, a year later, I think it was really a good decision for us.
With a guy like that that was such a highly recruited runningback, had success early on here in camp as a runningback as a freshman, he handled it well. It wasn’t something we had to recruit him and talk him into doing it. He jumped up and wanted to play, and last year got on the field as a freshman.
Q. Is that something that during recruitment you bring up, the possibility of cornerback?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, I think you always do. Most of those guys, to be quite honest, they want to hear about being a runningback, most of those high school runningbacks that gained 2,000 yards their senior year. You certainly tell them there’s that opportunity.
One thing I’ve always said, “I’m not going to make the decision and just force you to do it, it’s going to be both of us together as well as your parents, your high school coach, whatever. We’re going to do what is in everyone’s best interest.”
Q. Players have made mistakes in games, and they haven’t played a whole lot after that, sort of had to work their way back up. Did Vontez go through that similar thing or were you eager to put him back out there?
COACH DAVIE: I think each situation is different. I think particularly everything is a little bit different. You take a guy on a hitch route, a great athlete like Charlie, straight man?to?man coverage, he misses a tackle. As much as you hate to say it, that’s football. Sometimes you’re going to win, sometimes you’re going to lose those. There are other things that are self?inflicted: lining up off?sides, certainly dropping the football. Each situation is handled differently.
One thing we don’t do is we don’t put them in the tank, we don’t hold grudges. Everybody’s going to get an opportunity to play again. You saw Terrance Howard late in the game against Pittsburgh carrying the football in critical situations. It’s part of the development of a young corner.
The thing that Vontez has, he’s a bit of a pit bull dog. He’s a competitive guy. I really enjoy his personality. That’s probably why he’s going to be a heck of a player.
Q. Vontez seems to have an air, not in a bad way, to be a cocky kid. Do you pick up the same stuff?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah. He’s kind of a fun kid to be around, though. He’s not an arrogant guy or a mean?spirited guy. He’s just a happy, up?tempo, positive guy that likes to play. That’s refreshing.
We lost a heck of a guy like that in Brock Williams. That was a big blow to us, losing Brock Williams. So Vontez has kind of taken that role on with Shane Walton. I think we need that. It’s helping us.
Q. Coach Rodriguez was saying he has a hard time stopping the option. Is this a game where you look for your team to fine tune some troubles they’ve been having on offense?
COACH DAVIE: I think with Carlyle, I’m not giving anything away to say that you’d like to expand the option a little bit. That’s certainly a weapon. But once again, we don’t want to turn the football over. I think Carlyle showed some signs of having some unique abilities in that phase of the game. Certainly that’s going to be expanded.
Q. Can you talk about Abram Elam?
COACH DAVIE: He’s got a lot of energy. First of all, he was a quarterback when he came here out of high school. It didn’t take long, watching him throw with the other three guys we had. He just has a great personality. He’s really a tough kid, you know, amazing story where he was raised, how he was raised. His mom did an incredible, incredible job. He’s had some tragedies in his life. He is a remarkable young man.
You saw him when he made the interception. He’s got a lot of ?? he’s just a fun guy, emotional guy. I think with Vontez and Abe, you have two young guys that bring you a lot of spirit. I’m happy he’s playing well.
Q. I’m kind of confused.
COACH DAVIE: I’m a little nervous now (laughter). You’re kind of laying the groundwork.
Q. October 1st, Kevin came out and said the football program was going to be evaluated at the end of the season. Now I’m hearing reports that your dismissal has already been signed, sealed, delivered. I’m just coming to you.
COACH DAVIE: I wish someone would tell me, I’m working so hard right now (laughter). I’m trying so hard to win some games.
I don’t think that’s the case. You know, I think if that’s, in fact, what the rumor is, you know, all you guys have been around long enough to know that a lot of times those sources sometimes have agendas. If, in fact, there are sources that are saying that, there’s a lot of agendas out there.
You guys have been in this a long time. You’ve seen a lot of different twists and turns. That’s not true. That’s not true.
Q. Could you talk about Kurt Vollers’ development as a leader on the offensive line? He told me he’s a reluctant leader and the coaches are nudging him to be more of a leader.
COACH DAVIE: I’ll tell you one thing, if it was (inaudible), I’d be getting ready to go to that U2 concert tomorrow night. I’m going to take Joanne, go out there and just enjoy it (laughter).
Yeah, Kurt Vollers has come a long way. Early on, he fought the academics, fought some of the maturity things that you go through, was injured. You know, he’s come on and been a real leader for us. He’s a guy that we’re able to take and move at guard for a couple weeks, now he’s back at tackle. He’s come a long way.
Kurt Vollers is going to be a good football player.
Q. Have you noticed him becoming more mature and more of a team player?
COACH DAVIE: I don’t know, he was kind of a different personality early on. There’s nothing wrong with that. He has come on and matured a lot, though. I do consider him the ultimate team player right now. He’s a guy that’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s improved academically tremendously. He’s become a mature guy. It’s fun to see that.
Q. Do you notice him taking more of a leadership role when the team was 0?3, did you see him stepping up at all with the offensive linemen?
COACH DAVIE: Nothing out of the ordinary. All those guys, particularly the seniors, have done a good job with that. Kurt has been a positive leader for us.
Q. His first start was back in Pittsburgh in ’99. Did you expect him to take that opportunity and start every game since then?
COACH DAVIE: Always had a lot of ability. Kurt Vollers is a guy that the upside was pretty high because of his body type, his quickness. It doesn’t surprise me what he’s done. Because he’s matured, he’s turned into a really good player.
Q. Did it take much convincing to get him to switch from defense to offense as a freshman?
COACH DAVIE: Not too much. Not too much. I think he found out early on he was better suited for offense, as well.
Q. He said he wanted to try to maintain a standard 250 when he first came in. Do you think there could be any way he could have possibly done that, looking at him now?
COACH DAVIE: Probably not. It’s amazing, he weighs about 310 pounds. Slender built. He’s just a big, tall guy with a big frame. I think he’d have had a hard time saying under 250.
Q. Have you had any input on whether Cooper will return to campus this year?
COACH DAVIE: No, that’s a University situation all the way.
Q. You talk a lot about the character of your football team, how important character is. Do you think other football programs put as much emphasis on character as you do and take as much pride?
COACH DAVIE: I think by and large across this country, I think they do. I think certainly every University is different. You know, the fact that all of our students live on campus, the fact this is a Catholic University, high academics, certainly there’s probably some rules here that other people don’t have.
But I think for the most part across this country, I see a bunch of outstanding kids playing this game and a bunch of coaches that try to do the right thing.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know the coaches that I’m friends with, character is very high on the priority list for them when it comes to players.
I think sometimes people do lose sight of what this all is. Just like last Thursday, we had our academic meeting that we have every Thursday morning at 7:00. We got the calculus scores of our freshmen back. I think we have 21 freshmen that took their first calculus test. The lowest grade we had was about 78. There were a lot of 80s and 90s in that calculus class. You know, that’s an amazing thing to step up as a freshman at Notre Dame and be able to do that.
So it’s still college football. It’s still college football. We’re still at a place, Notre Dame, that I think does care about graduation rates, does consider it an honor that you win an academic achievement award, does care about the GPA of the players, does care that you have a bunch of kids doing it the right way.
I think these kids are learning unbelievable life lessons right now, what priorities are, how to fight through adversity. That’s what college football is. I think across this country, most people do it that way, try to do it that way.
Q. Are you friends with Coach Rodriguez of West Virginia and have you spoken with him about the importance of character on a football team?
COACH DAVIE: I have not. Desmond Robinson is good friends with him. David Lockwood was on his staff. We hired David from West Virginia. I do not know Rich Rodriguez.
Q. You were talking a couple weeks ago about the young wide receivers, Omar Jenkins, Ronnie Rodamer, Campbell. Can you assess the progress those guys are making? Do you think Campbell is going to play any time soon?
COACH DAVIE: I’d really like to get those guys. It’s one of those things you say and it kind of doesn’t happen. You know, it’s frustrating, even though it’s good intentioned, and things happen for a reason.
You’d like to get those guys some catches and get some throws to them to see what they can do. We’ve been in a situation where everything we do, it’s so tight. Just like at the end of the Pittsburgh game, we’re up 24?7. You’d like to get some young guys in. We’re not really in a position, even when it’s 24?7, because we’re trying to get some momentum, get more confidence.
It’s just been difficult to get those guys opportunities to get the ball in their hands. I’m talking about Ronnie Rodamer. He’s a young guy I would love to see play more, love to see get a chance to show what he can do. I think it will be pretty darn good when he gets his opportunity.
Omar Jenkins did make a nice catch. Omar dropped one against I believe Michigan State, but he’s come back and done some good things.
Carlos Campbell is a young guy that’s ready to play.
You know, we would need to get in a position where we can throw it a little more, where it’s not life and death every time you throw it. That’s kind of the cycle we’re going through right now. I think these next couple weeks are really important for us because we do have some young guys that I think can step up and play. We need to get them in the game and let them go a little bit.
Q. Tony Fisher, when do you think you’re going to know about him? Just before game time?
COACH DAVIE: I think it will probably be later in the week. If I had to guess, I think he’ll play, just knowing Tony. But certainly we’re not going to let him play unless it’s in his best interest and our best interest that he does play.
I really think with Gerome Sapp, Ron Israel and Tony Fisher, it will be about a game time decision after this all shades out all week.
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