Buster Sheridan

Irish Extra: SWAG Team Fills Critical Role in Irish Football Scheme

Sept. 24, 2015

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – On Georgia Tech’s first play in Saturday’s game against the University of Notre Dame football team, Broderick Snoddy managed to push ahead for four yards.

On Georgia Tech’s second play, Patrick Skov picked up two yards before running in a brick wall formed by Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara.

On Georgia Tech’s third play, Drue Tranquill drove the nation’s top rushing team backwards four yards with a punishing tackle for loss of Qua Searcy.

As Irish fans shook Notre Dame Stadium with roaring approval, the Yellow Jackets limped off the field, giving way to their punt team.

Notre Dame’s defense was greeted with high fives and slaps to their golden helmets as they reached the sidelines. The Irish set a tone early that Georgia Tech wouldn’t come anywhere near its average of 457.5 yards a game rushing. It’s a tone that was hammered out long before Saturday’s first pitch of the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option attack.

Georgia Tech gained only 216 yards rushing against Notre Dame, nearly seeing its nation-long streak of 16 consecutive games rushing for 200 or more yards snapped.

Averaging 67.0 points a game entering Saturday’s battle, Georgia Tech fell short of the Irish 30-22–and the last two touchdowns came in the final minute.

For the Irish, the work of the scout team–SWAG (Students with Attitude and Game)–prepared the Irish defense for a stellar game on Saturday.

Preparing for the triple option started in fall camp for the Irish and then was amped up the week of the game against Georgia Tech.

In the privacy of the LaBar Practice Complex, Notre Dame’s offensive scout team helped the Irish defense sharpen its attack for Georgia Tech. It’s a job that demands complete commitment to team, a job that demands guts, but doesn’t come with glory.

“I think it’s more of a thankless job than anything,” Irish wide receiver Buster Sheridan said. “Our game day is on the practice field. We get to see our work come to fruition on Saturdays when we see our defense make stops. That first drive, when Drue Tranquill put the Georgia Tech running back in the ground, we remember that at practice. We’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s because we ran it in practice better than they did.’

“Ultimately, you have to love football,” Sheridan said of playing on the scout team. “There are some people who are talented, but might not like the game so much. You’re not looking for glory on the scout team. We’re looking to play football. You’re got to love making blocks, you’ve got to love catching passes. It doesn’t matter that there aren’t 80,000 people watching.”

Quarterback Rob Regan played a critical role in preparing the Irish. An option quarterback at Hinsdale South High School in Illinois, Regan gave the Irish a perfect view of a complex offense.

“It definitely takes a special kind of mentality to be a scout team player,” Regan said. “You have to be able to go out there and do your job and give the defense the best look you can. Sometimes you have to take criticism from defensive coaches and offensive coaches, to make sure you’re doing the best you can to give the defense the best look you can. If that means taking a hit, you just have to get right up and go to the next play.

“We’ve been practicing our triple option against our defense since the summer, so we knew how to work it. We made some adjustments since the summer. That helped us out. Obviously, it prepared our defense well enough, so we did our job.”

Regan loved every minute of the Irish defense stuffing the Yellow Jackets’ offense.

“It was definitely a good feeling, going out there on Saturday, just the first couple of drives, seeing Georgia Tech going three and out,” said Regan. “It was so satisfying, knowing that we did our job to prepare the defense. We’re also trying to prove ourselves, along with giving the defense a good look. If the coaches see us performing well, we’re more likely to get an opportunity to play in a game.”

On Saturday, it seemed like the Irish defense knew what Georgia Tech was running before the Yellow Jackets stepped out of their huddle.

Starting linebacker Joe Schmidt credited the SWAG team with getting the defense ready.

“The SWAG team is an instrumental cog in our success,” Schmidt said. “Without our offensive and defensive scout teams, there is no possible way we would be prepared for Saturday. It doesn’t matter who we are playing, Georgia Tech, Massachusetts, the New York Jets . . . we need to make sure we have a great look.

“Those guys go out there each and every day, and they are whoever we are playing. This week, they are Massachusetts. They adopted the identities of the players they mimic, they wear the same numbers, they totally become those players. There’s no way we can be successful without those guys.”

Running back Josh Anderson said playing on the SWAG team has elevated his game.

“When I first got to Notre Dame, I knew my high school offense, but that was about it,” Anderson said. “Playing scout team, we were watching film of the other teams, learning the steps they take, learning the style of offenses they have, and practicing it.

“I think that’s how I’ve learned the game so much. Learning in that way has helped me become a much better player. It’s helped me understand the game. I put a lot of value into studying the other team and studying the running back that I have to be.”

Anderson has developed into a keen student of the game through his SWAG team service.

“I put in a lot of time on my own,” Anderson said. “I watch Stanford and USC, because I know we play both of those teams. I watch any film I can get. I get on YouTube and try to find anything I can on the running back that I’m supposed to be. I look up the stats. I watch the steps of the different running backs for different plays, because running backs take different steps on power plays and inside zone. I mimic their steps. I look to see if they’re a downhill runners or sideline runners. Everybody has different tendencies, and I have to mimic those.”

When Schmidt was on the Irish scout team, he embraced the idea of becoming the opposing player.

“I would talk if the person I was mimicking was a talker,” Schmidt said. “I would adopt his whole persona. I would make up a life story for the guy and do everything he would do, including the (quarterback sack) dances.”

Offensive lineman Sam Bush said the SWAG team keeps its role in perspective.

“We keep it one week at a time,” Bush said. “We’re incredibly happy with the way our defense played, and we’re incredibly honored to have been a part of that win. We’re not sitting here, thinking we’re not getting any credit for doing the dirty work. We’re thinking we had a huge part in helping our team get this unbelievable team victory.

“We took so much pride in the way our team played defense on Saturday, so we’re looking to play even better the next week to get our team ready. We do the best that we can to give our defense the look that they need, to get the offense prepared for what they need to do.”

A common bond for the SWAG team players is their love of Notre Dame.

“I’ve been a Notre Dame fan since I was born,” Sheridan said. “I had Notre Dame baby pajamas. My dog’s name is Rudy. I’m a walk-on. Coming from the south side of Chicago, I was raised a Notre Dame fan.

“For me, there were some small schools where I could have played football and had that glory that some guys get here and that they work for, but there’s something special about Notre Dame. It’s always been that way for me. Whether I’m last on the depth chart or first, just putting on the jersey and running through that tunnel, hitting the sign, everything that this school brings-that’s more than enough for me. As an athlete, I’ll never be satisfied, I’ll always work hard. But as a lover of this school, I couldn’t be happier where I’m at.”

Bush agreed that a passion for Notre Dame makes SWAG team duty a labor of love.

“We have something special here,” Bush said. “We’re the University of Notre Dame. When you’re walking across campus and you walk by Touchdown Jesus every day or you walk by and see the glow off the Golden Dome . . . it’s a special place. Everybody here will tell you they feel something special about this place.”

— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent