March 29, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – After a winter spent lifting countless weights, running numerous sprints and studying page after page in the playbook, the Notre Dame football team hit the practice field for the first time this spring, turning out a spirited two-hour practice Monday afternoon inside the Loftus Sports Center.
Head coach Tyrone Willingham, who will begin his third season with the Irish this fall, was encouraged by what he saw from his charges in the first of the team’s 15 scheduled workouts over the next month.
“The first couple of days this spring will be spent focusing on reinforcing the fundamentals,” he said.
“While it’s important to build on the lessons we learned last season, it’s critical that we keep drilling our young men on the basics so that it becomes second nature to them.”
Experience will be a valuable commodity on this year’s Irish roster. Notre Dame has 47 monogram winners returning, including eight starters on offense and six on defense. Willingham is counting on these veterans to be the backbone of Notre Dame’s success in 2004.
“Some of these men have been here for two or three years already and have a solid grasp of the goals we have for this team,” he said.
“Now that they are upperclassmen, we look to them to pass on their knowledge to our younger players and make them aware of the expectations that come with being a football player and a student-athlete at Notre Dame.”
Two of the men who have a keen understanding of what it means to be a Fighting Irish football player were in attendance at Monday’s opening practice. Linebacker Courtney Watson and nose guard Cedric Hilliard watched their former teammates go through their paces as they themselves prepare for the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 24-25 in New York City.
Notre Dame will be back on the gridiron Tuesday for another practice session before taking Wednesday afternoon off. With rain in the forecast for the Michiana region, the Irish will likely be back inside the dry confines of the Loftus Sports Center.
— ND —
NOTES: Six returning veterans have changed jersey numbers for the spring season, with many of the changes related to their respective position switches. Defensive back Tom Zbikowski has donned #9, while running back Travis Thomas is sporting Zbikowski’s former jersey #26, and Thomas’ old number #20 now belongs to defensive back Isaiah Gardner. In addition, newly-converted offensive lineman Dan Santucci is wearing #50 (formerly worn by Hilliard), new defensive back Chinedum Ndukwe has reversed his previous uniform number, trading #81 for #18, and defensive back Ambrose Wooden has slipped into the #22 jersey that was worn last year by Julius Jones.