Fiesta Bowl mascot Spirit welcomed head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish to Arizona on Saturday.

Irish Begin Arizona Practices For Fiesta Bowl

Dec. 27, 2015

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By Leigh Torbin


The coaches, staff and a couple of Irish football players arrived in the Valley of the Sun on Saturday afternoon to chilly air but a warm red carpet welcome at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport from members of the Fiesta Bowl Committee.

With far less aplomb, the Irish players came from celebrating Christmas at their homes across America to Phoenix on Sunday morning. Walk-on kicker Sam Kohler’s flight from Omaha arrived first at 7:33 a.m. An American Airlines flight from Indianapolis with a half dozen players set to arrive at 7:43 a.m. was delayed about an hour. And so the morning progressed.

Under the mindful eye of operations staffers Jason Michelson, Tyler Plantz and others, a steady stream of busses ferried the Irish from the airport to the team’s Scottsdale resort hotel up until a United flight from Chicago with an octet of players pulled into Sky Harbor at 12:15 p.m.

Greeted in no particular order by their coaches, lunch, and an armful of new Under Armour gear, including a travel suit from UA’s new Cam Newton C1N Collection, the Irish players checked in and caught up.

The switch flipped at 2 p.m. and it was a business trip and game week again as head coach Brian Kelly ran a team meeting along with several representatives of the Fiesta Bowl Committee. Notre Dame held meetings before heading over to Scottsdale Community College for an hour-long “Mental Monday” practice to help shake off four days of rust since the team broke for Christmas on Wednesday.

At SCC, the gracious welcomes continued for the Fighting Irish at the home of the Fighting Artichokes. Delbert Ray, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and his wife, greeted Kelly before practice and presented him with a painting of a traditional tribal basket as a welcoming gift.

A Mexican buffet awaited back at the hotel sending the team into a night off. Options included buses to downtown “Old Town” Scottsdale, a player lounge with games and other options as “Team 127” reconvened to prepare for its final mission.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish Media team is also on the ground in Arizona and will continue to provide exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage of the Irish as they prepare for their date with Ohio State on Friday. Check back regularly for video coverage of team activities, including a few daily post-practice sound bytes from Kelly with ND Sports Blogger Laura Thomas.

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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.