Dec. 19, 2005

The University of Notre Dame football team began its preparation for the 2006 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in earnest on Monday, Dec. 19. The Irish began a ‘training camp’ mentality with a morning workout, team meetings and a practice in the Loftus Sports Center.

As the team focuses on Ohio State, the media met with the players on Monday afternoon for the last time before the team arrives in the Tempe, Ariz., area for the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 27.

Irish co-captains Brandon Hoyte (defense) and Brady Quinn (offense) answered a few questions from media members who attended Monday’s session. It was also announced the senior Corey Mays will be the Irish special teams captain for the Fiesta Bowl.

Junior Quarterback Brady Quinn

Q: What challenges face the team as you end the break for final exams?

Quinn: I think just focusing on football the task at hand. Right now there’s a little bit of a distraction with Christmas coming up. Not having the game this Saturday, we still have some time. Getting back in the swing of things after having the week of with exams, we’re really just focusing on all of our objectives right now.

Q: Is there an adjustment to returning to practice after exam week?

Quinn: Hopefully it won’t be too hard. Coming in early in the morning and lifting and going through a lot of meetings, I think we’re getting to the point where we are getting our mind in the right direction, but we won’t be able to tell until we get out there and practice.

Q: Is there anything as a captain and leader of the team that you have to do to come back from exams?

Quinn: The biggest thing is just getting everyone going. With the game not being this Saturday, there’s not necessarily the sense of urgency. We have these few practices, then we’re home for Christmas, then we’re right out to the bowl game and practice out there. This is a time where we can get some good preparation in and really get down to a lot of (Ohio State’s) tendencies and what they like to do. You’ve got to feel some urgency to get everything they can out of these practices.

Q: What workouts do you do over exam week?

Quinn: Obviously lifting, running, things of that sort. Every once in a while we got a chance to watch some film in our spare time as well. As far as practicing and things like that, it’s not allowed over exam week.

Q: Does Ohio State’s defense remind you of any opponents from this season?

Quinn: I think they’re pretty unique in that they don’t really have any weaknesses. When you look at their defense as a whole, they’re sound physically, fundamentally, in the way they play. They have special people on that side of the ball. When you look at them on film, there’s nothing really that stands out that makes you think you can take advantage of that. They’re just solid all around.

Q: What have you been hearing from family and friends in the Columbus area about the game?

Quinn: Obviously my parents have heard about it more than I have. The talk about being home or the people that have called me and talked to me just wish me good luck. In a number of cases they will be rooting for me and want us to win. But there are a few circumstances where some guys will be rooting against me, just hoping I play well.

Q: What challenges does the Ohio State secondary pose for the offense?

Quinn: I think their secondary, as a whole is bigger than what we’ve seen, yet they still have speed and athleticism to really makes plays against the deep ball and anything that comes up against them. They really don’t have any weaknesses in their secondary or anywhere in the defense for that matter.

Q: Do they do a good job with their pass rush and getting linebackers in on the rush?

Quinn: I think so. Watching particular games you see they don’t really bring much pressure, yet still have a lot of penetration on the offensive line. Whether it’s with a running game or a passing game they try to create a lot of chaos up there with their front four.

Q: How difficult was the process of adapting to Coach Weis’ offense?

Quinn: It wasn’t too hard. I think once you get game experience, it becomes a little bit easier. You get to work through other situations you go through in practice and finally put them on the field. After having a couple shots at doing that in a game scenario, you feel much more comfortable going into the next week.

Q: What’s the good thing about school being done for the semester?

Quinn: It’s all football. You really don’t have time to get distracted. You’re pretty much locked down, focused on your opponent and you’re really just preparing the entire day. That allows all their tendencies and all the things they like to do to be absorbed and have an impact on you while you’re in such a concentrated environment.

Q: What is the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team?

Quinn: I think the biggest difference is just confidence in different situations. Obviously, right now, with the situation we’re in, we’re a lot more confident.

Q: How much of the opportunity do you want to fall on you for the game?

Quinn: Obviously every quarterback wants everything to be on them, all the pressure to be on their shoulders. That may be selfish in some ways, but at the same time, that’s why you’re a quarterback, that’s why you’re at that position, that’s why you have the ball in your hands every play. Especially with the scenario that it is with Ohio State, that just makes it that more intriguing for me.

Q: What has it been like to see (Wide Receiver) Jeff Samardzija develop this season?

Quinn: It really started off with that catch against Pittsburgh, and that really just opened things up. He’s had a tremendous season. Looking at the plays he’s made, he’s been such a huge factor in every game. In the Tennessee game, he had that big play on the third down conversion to kind of turn the tide in that game. All season, he’s come up with big plays, big blocks, he’s done everything the coaches have asked of him. He’s truly been the prototype of a team player and what that all includes. Being there to lay a block out for Darius (Walker) or catch a big pass when we need it, he’s just made great strides from last season to this season.

Q: How much time to you take off after the Fiesta Bowl before starting things off for next year?

Quinn: It’s tough to say. I’m one to never really take much time off or get away from a workout regimen. You need to look back, evaluate your season, evaluate yourself, looking back at yourself and see what you can improve on. You kind of devote those to the off-season with things you can improve on.

Q: What has the reaction been around campus to the demand for tickets for the Fiesta Bowl?

Quinn: It’s been great to go around campus and here those kinds of complaints, that there’s not enough tickets because a lot of students want to go. I think you see the demand that a lot of students want to go and are trying to find tickets. They ask me if I have tickets and I kind of have to ask, “Are you serious?” because I’m trying to find them for myself. It’s fun seeing how in demand it is and how the spirit of Notre Dame Football has come alive right now.

Q: When did you know the spirit of Notre Dame Football was back?

Quinn: It’s tough to say. I’d like to say I knew the magnitude it could reach. The USC Pep Rally kind of blew everything that I’ve experiences the past years away. Everything that this season has kind of brought along with it has kind of met and exceeded all expectations I had.

Q: What is it like to be able to play in a later bowl game and be home for Christmas?

Quinn: It’ll be nice. Last year missing Christmas was the first time in my life for me. It’s not necessarily a goal you think about, but it’s something that comes with going to a BCS game. You will be home with your family for Christmas and you will be able to celebrate it and not have to be away.

Senior Linebacker Brandon Hoyte

Q: As a captain, how do you lead on the field?

Hoyte: I just look at it as how you perform in practice. You can rah-rah and go around and scream at practice all you want. But, if you’re not up to the challenge, people can tell by the way you practice and if you’re energy level is up, and the words really mean nothing. I just look at myself in the mirror and how I practice.

Q: Some teams have used a spy to defend a mobile quarterback like Ohio State’s Troy Smith. Has that been discussed?

Hoyte: For some teams that’s just an individual who keeps an eye on the quarterback and keeps him contained. I think we’re going to show a lot of different looks and make sure that we do our plan well. You always talk about the offense and what they can do and what they can do well and what we can adjust to. Bottom line is we have to go out there, beat eleven guys on the field, and go out there and do our job.

Q: Have you thought about this being your last game at Notre Dame?

Hoyte: I told Brady (Quinn) this morning. For the first time I stopped and thought that I might just miss this place. The funny thing is you never thought that your time might be up. I can’t ask for a better way to go out because I’m with a group of guys that knows how it feels to be really, really close. We’ve elevated this program to a level of a BCS bowl where there is no doubt that you’re one of the top teams in the nation. To see that change over the last few years, that to me is my number one memory.

Q: When following Coach Weis’ arrival did you realize the potential this team had?

Hoyte: I think the first time he had the team together for a meeting. He told us a lot of things, but one thing he told us from the get-go was that we deserve to win and that there is no doubt in our mind that we will win. That’s how we approach every game. It’s one thing to be able to say it, but it’s another to take one hundred guys, an entire program, and change that around and make everyone believe in that. I don’t think there’s one game this year that anyone can point out that we didn’t go in there every down thinking we were going to win.

Q: What have you seen of Ohio State’s receiving corps?

Hoyte: Bottom line is all of them can score. They have guys on their team, that if they get the ball, they can take it for a quick six. We need to corral those players and stop them from making plays and scoring.

Q: How has the intensity increased around the program?

Hoyte: I would say it started back in the summer. I remember how tough those 6:30 AM workouts were. Coach (John) Latina was just in my face, pushing me. I think, if as a fifth year guy, a coach can still motivate you and push you to a level beyond what you thought you were capable of, that’s a product of good coaching. I think that’s the reason we’re having success. The coaches have a way of taking that potential and taking it beyond what anyone thought possible.

Q: Does the intensity in practice become self-sustained?

Hoyte: The thing is just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t. That’s the cool thing about this team and the relationship the players have with the coaches. We see we’re getting better, but we’re so far away from where we need to be. We’ve got one more game to go out there and prove we’re the best.

Q: Do you have enough tickets for the game?

Hoyte: I got my mom, my sister, my dad, and my two grandma’s coming. I don’t know where tickets are; I just know I’ll be at the game.

Q: Are you bunkering down with the team at this point?

Hoyte: Yes. We had some time off this weekend after finals. This week we get back to practicing. I think for the first time in my life, I have nothing to concentrate on but football. I’m really excited about that and it feels good. I want to talk to Coach Weis; I don’t see how bad this NFL thing could really be.

Q: Does Notre Dame need to win this game to validate the season and prevent people from saying it’s the same old Notre Dame team that can’t win a bowl game?

Hoyte: No, it’s not the same Notre Dame team, but at the same time you have to win the bowl game. I think it would be very surprising for anyone in the country to look at us and say this is the same team they’ve seen the past couple years. Even when we were winning at some points in years prior we haven’t been winning as convincingly. The bowl game is what you play for. You play the season for the chance to play in January. We have the chance to prove we’re one of the top teams in the country, that’s what the season is all about. We have a chance to do so, we just have to go out there and do it.

Q: How does winning a bowl game provide momentum for going into next season?

Hoyte: When you have a tough bowl, some people look at is as motivation to get better. I’ve always thought the bowl game is a motivational factor. You want to win, and you want to win more. Everyone talks about wanting to be in a big bowl game, for me personally, being a fifth year senior, I owe this University so much and this allows me to give something back. I think that’s the respect I’ve developed for the University over my five years.

Q: What will the off-season be like next year with the high expectations for the season?

Hoyte: I think it will be tough for them physically and mentally. I wouldn’t trust a better group of guys to handle that. That’s something that people playing Notre Dame Football understand that people on the outside might not understand. You don’t just have a group of kids went out there and won a bunch of games this year. You’ve got a group of kids there that for a majority of their careers have been told they are letting Notre Dame Football down. They took that as fuel and we able to use that to go out and play their behinds off this year.

Q: What impact have the defensive tackles had on the defense as a whole this season?

Hoyte: They are the same way (for linebackers) that an offensive line is for a quarterback. They open up the holes and allow the linebackers to go in there and make plays. But what they do is not just open up holes, they make plays. Just when a hole is about to be open, they see Trevor Laws go in there and make a play. You’ve seen how Victor (Abiamiri) can be explosive these last few games. They’ve continued to play good defense. Derek Landri has been making plays for years.

Q: What do you think of the Ohio State rushing game?

Hoyte: I think that they are very physical, that is something that Ohio State is known for. They make plays and if you let them, you better buckle up because it’s going to be a long day.