DeShone Kizer told media on Monday that Malik Zaire is inspiring him and his teammates to beat Ohio State.

Culture is Secret Of Team 127's Success

Dec. 28, 2015

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By Leigh Torbin


Since August, head coach Brian Kelly has been preoccupied with forging Notre Dame’s 127th football team into a unit whose winning culture would override any scheme which stood before it.

“Team 127” and “Culture Beats Scheme” were phrases heard daily around “the Goog” and even found themselves printed onto the team’s Under Armour weight room workout apparel.

Before preseason camp even started, Kelly brought in “The Program,” an intense team-building and leadership course run by retired military officers, to help hone the Irish. The team heard directly from “Lone Survivor” Marcus Luttrell during preseason camp who told the awestruck team his unfathomably harrowing tale from Afghanistan. Luttell told the rapt Irish lessons of teamwork from his career with the Navy SEALs where every step by a teammate could mean your own life or death.

From this fire was forged a team of incomparable cohesion. It allowed the Irish to spend nearly the entire season in the top 10 despite losing nine starters to injury and 16 members of its mid-camp two-deep.

This teamwork recently shone during the team’s annual ECHOES awards show. The remarkably competitive “Next Man In” Award went to running back CJ Prosise who had a 1,000-yard season after starter Tarean Folston was lost for the year to a knee injury in the first quarter of the first game. Asked about highlights of his season at the ECHOES, Prosise talked about a point when he was injured and the joy he felt as freshman Josh Adams ran past him and the entire Wake Forest defense on a school-record 98-yard touchdown run.

Media members attending this morning’s Notre Dame press conference at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn heard this unity ring true in the voice of quarterback DeShone Kizer, himself a backup at the start of camp elevated to the starting role only after injury when Malik Zaire broke his ankle in the second game of the year.

Both sons of Ohio (Kizer hails from Toledo while Zaire calls Kettering home), this game against the Buckeyes holds an extra meaning for the pair. Although progressing nicely, Zaire’s injury will not allow him to suit up and play against Ohio State. His spirit though will directly be helping the Irish in their bout with the Buckeyes.

“If there’s anything that has made this game a circled game on (my teammates’) schedule more than me, it’s Malik,” Kizer said of his friend. “He’s had this fire to play against (Ohio State) since the day he stepped on campus. He’s taken that mindset, that fire, tried to throw it at me.

“He’s at practice yelling, screaming, being more vocal than he has been all year. He really wants to come out with a victory this game. That fire in turn has helped me with my preparation to take everything as seriously as I possibly can.”

Team 127 couldn’t care less how it wins a game. Who makes the big play is irrelevant. All that matters in the culture Kelly has engendered is that the big play is somehow made and the Irish march onward to victory.

On Monday afternoon in sunny Scottsdale, backups pushed starters. Injured teammates urged on those who will play in their place. Irish players helped their teammates grasp concepts and refine technique.

On Monday evening, the Irish were treated to dinner by the Fiesta Bowl Committee at “The Yard” in Tempe. The team sat at about a dozen round tables with precious few of those tables segregated by position group, academic class, ethnic backgrounds or other inherent dividing lines on a football team.

Notre Dame dined as one on Monday. Notre Dame aims to win as one on Friday.

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Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and serves as the football publicity team’s top lieutenant while coordinating all media efforts for Irish women’s lacrosse. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.