Oct. 11, 2001

Associated Press Writer

It took Abram Elam one day at Notre Dame to realize he didn’t have a future as a quarterback. It took him four games to show Irish fans he might have quite a future as a safety.

Elam caught the attention of Notre Dame fans Saturday while filling in for injured strong safety Ron Israel. He had an interception and a fumble recovery that helped Notre Dame (1-3) take control against Pittsburgh as the Irish forced five turnovers.

“He’s stepped up and made some plays,” Irish coach Bob Davie said. “I think you’re going to see even more of Abe Elam as the season progresses.”

Teammates describe Elam has a hard worker who loves to talk as much as he loves to play football.

“He’s a typical Florida guy,” cornerback Shane Walton said. “He gives you hype. He likes to talk. He’s like a nasty player. But I think we need that on this team.”

Davie describes Elam, from Riviera Beach, Fla., as a high-energy player with a contagious personality. Safeties coach Bill Sheridan said Elam has an uplifting personality and a great sense of humor.

“He has football smarts,” Sheridan said. “He’s got great size and he’s a fast athlete. In a lot of ways he has everything you’re looking for. On top of that, and this is a hard thing to measure, but he loves to play. He’s got a tremendous passion for playing.”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Elam, a sophomore academically who did not play last season, said he just loves being at Notre Dame playing football.

“The opportunity to compete down in and down out is something you can’t take for granted,” he said.

He arrived at Notre Dame intending to try out for quarterback. But he was part of the same class as Carlyle Holiday, Matt LoVecchio and Jared Clark. He figured out quickly that quarterback would not be the position for him. On the second day of two-a-day practices last year, he approached the coaches about switching to defense.

“I feel like God put me in this position and he’s controlling everything I do. That’s why I’m never discouraged. I’m putting everything in his hands,” Elam said.

Elam played on special teams against Nebraska and forced a fumble against Michigan State. He saw his most extensive playing time Saturday against the Panthers. In addition to the two turnovers, he made four tackles and had a pass deflection. He said it’s easier to make plays the longer he’s in the game.

“You come accustomed to the rhythm of the game and you catch up on the speed and get comfortable with it,” he said.

In Notre Dame’s opening three games, opponents had scored on their opening drive in every game. Pittsburgh started its opening drive on its own 40 and quickly moved to the Notre Dame 45 on a pass interference call. Two plays later, Elam intercepted David Priestley’s and returned it 23 yards to the 48.

Coaches and teammates have been teasing him ever since about his failure to return it for a touchdown.

“He can take a good ribbing, and he gets quite a bit of it from his teammates. But he can give it back. He’s very good-natured,” Sheridan said. “I think he’s a streetwise kid they just love to goon on.”

No one was ribbing him in the third quarter, however, when he dove on a fumble by Pitt receiver R.J. English at the 1 on what would have been the go-ahead touchdown.

“I was just trying run hard and get there to have an opportunity to make a play and it just so happened the ball spurted out,” he said. “Good things happen when you are hustling.”