Aug. 13, 2003
by Chris Masters
In his short time at Notre Dame, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Diedrick could easily be mistaken for a gardener. He’s certainly someone who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty to help the Irish blossom into a national contender. But instead of using water, potting soil and fertilizer to make his “garden” grow, Diedrick is employing playbooks, videotape and old-fashioned sweat to turn his batch of seedlings into a flourishing crop of college quarterbacks.
Among the growing talent in Diedrick’s stable, the true “redwood” of the group is senior Carlyle Holiday. The San Antonio, Texas, native is set to begin his second full season as the No. 1 quarterback for the Irish, owning a career record of 14-7 as a starter. Despite adjusting to a radically different offense in 2002, Holiday posted solid numbers, completing 129 of 257 passes for 1,788 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 129 completions ranked ninth on the school’s single-season list, and he set a Notre Dame record by completing 126 consecutive passes without an interception, finishing with the third-best single-season interception percentage mark in school history (.0194). In addition, he currently ranks third in Irish annals for the lowest career interception percentage (.0299).
The 6-3, 221-pound Holiday continued his progress during the spring season, leading Diedrick to reaffirm his status as Notre Dame’s top signal-caller.
“When you look at the improvement Carlyle has made, you can see how he’s solidified himself as our starter,” Diedrick said.
“He was beginning to get a really good feel and grasp of the offense during the latter half of last season and all during the spring. Heading into the coming year, we’ll ask him to make a similar improvement and continue to fine tune his understanding of what we want him to do.”
The battle for the No. 2 spot behind Holiday heated up during the spring, as incumbent Pat Dillingham and sophomore Chris Olsen, who did not see action in ’02, made their respective cases to be the top understudy. Dillingham, a junior from Portola Valley, Calif., has the advantage of serving in a similar role last year, seeing action in seven games, including his first career start in a win over Stanford. The former walk-on completed 41 of 81 passes for 434 yards and a touchdown and had a hand in a Hollywood-like finish for Notre Dame at Michigan State, relieving the injured Holiday and tossing the game-winning 60-yard TD pass to Arnaz Battle with 1:15 remaining.
Olsen, a 6-4, 220-pound product of Wayne, N.J., spent last season on the scout team and was able to learn the sizeable Notre Dame playbook. Despite the one-year layoff from game action, Olsen looked sharp in the ’03 Blue-Gold Game, completing 11 of 25 passes for 146 yards and scrambled for the eventual game-winning score early in the fourth quarter. For his efforts, Olsen was voted the Offensive Player of the Game.
“Towards the end of spring ball, Chris was much more consistent than he had shown in the earlier part of the spring,” Diedrick said.
“If he continues with the effort that he had in the spring game, he will probably move a notch ahead of Pat Dillingham. However, as we found out last year, the backup is only one snap away from playing and the No. 3 guy is just two snaps away from getting in there, so we need to have some solid depth at the position and both Chris and Pat give us that depth.”
The one wild card in the quarterback shuffle for the Irish this season could be the addition of true freshman Brady Quinn. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, the Dublin, Ohio, native was ranked 20th in the nation by ESPN after completing 143 of 258 passes for 2,149 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior last year at Coffman High School.
“The big question is how well Brady will be prepared during the summer and how quickly he will grasp the system once he gets on campus,” Diedrick said.
“Depending on how well he does in fall camp, we will see if he can stack up and work his way into the second or third spot.”
It’s readily apparent that Notre Dame is growing a tremendous amount of depth at the quarterback position. In Diedrick’s case, his green thumb might not just refer to his cultivation skills with the Irish signal callers – it could also be a sign of the fingerprint he is having on the future of Notre Dame football.