April 3, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the first time this spring, the Notre Dame football team hit the practice field in full pads, working out for two hours on Saturday afternoon and closing the session with a spirited half-hour controlled scrimmage at Cartier Field on the Notre Dame campus.
Although the calendar shows this is the first weekend in April, several other indicators might lead the casual observer to think this practice was being held in the heart of the football season. Under gray skies and with winds whipping at upwards of 20 miles per hour, the Irish were unfazed and even enjoyed the “football weather” which they have become accustomed to during the latter portion of their home schedule each year.
The scrimmage was held in two parts, with the first being a situational format with the first-team offense working primarily against the first-team defense and the second-teamers also squaring off against one another. In this scrimmage, the Notre Dame running attack seemed to have the most success, as rising senior running back Ryan Grant ripped off a 24-yard run, sophomore-to-be Travis Thomas tallied a 21-yard run and a one-yard scoring plunge, and senior fullback Rashon Powers-Neal caught a 16-yard swing pass from senior QB Pat Dillingham.
The second half of the scrimmage was devoted to red zone situations and this time, the Irish defense rose up and stopped their counterparts, forcing three field goal attempts. Rising senior kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick boomed a 40-yard field goal, while sophomore kicker Carl Gioia converted on a 30-yard try, both out of the hold of senior wideout Matt Shelton. Gioia also provided some excitement on his other attempt, picking up a bobbled snap and alertly tossing a 13-yard pass to junior tight end Marcus Freeman who got down to the one-yard line. It was one of two impressive catches for Freeman, who also climbed the ladder to pull in a 10-yard pass from Dillingham in the situational scrimmage.
Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham seemed moderately pleased with his team’s performance on Saturday.
“I thought it was a good high-energy scrimmage with our guys showing a lot of intensity out there,” he said.
“However, we didn’t do a lot of the little things right, and that’s what we need to do if we’re going to be a great football team. I did expect that we would have some problems, especially with this being our first day in pads and with the weather being what is was, but we still need to execute on every snap and on every down in order to be successful.”
The Irish held their first scrimmage before more than 150 people, including approximately 60 student-athletes from 12 states nationwide who were on campus for the second of the team’s three Junior Day events. Notre Dame will hold a third Junior Day the weekend of April 24-25, coinciding with the 75th annual Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish will take Sunday off before heading back to the practice field Monday afternoon.
— ND —