Nov. 7, 2007
Q. For all three of you guys, how do you go from a week to week situation, knowing what happened the week before was not positive, or how do you keep going out there, and how do you keep trying to get yourself in position to win a game?
Travis Thomas: I just go forward because of the pride that I have and the duty that I have to perform well to this university and to this team, and the fight that we all have inside of us.
You know, just looking forward to a new opportunity to go out there and win a game. You know, it’s been a while since we’ve done that, and we’re looking forward to the game this week.
John Carlson: One of Coach Weis’s philosophies says in order to succeed in the past three years, win or lose, our attitude has been to take it a week at a time. Every season for the past three seasons that I’ve been a part of, we’ve taken every game with the same goal as a single week game entity. So putting the previous game behind us has not been a problem because we’ve been doing this for three years now.
John Sullivan: Just go out and work hard. That’s what we always do, win or lose. And you know, no matter the outcome of the week’s — the other previous week’s game, there’s always work to be done, and as long as there’s a game next week, we are prepared to work hard for it.
Q. John Carlson, what have you seen out of Mike Ragone that’s helped him see more and more playing time?
John Carlson: Obviously he’s tremendously gifted athletically. He’s got great speed but the one thing that sticks out for me with Mike is his attitude, his tenacity and his willingness to kind of get after people. For the tight end position he’s a little bit undersized right now, a little bit light; but whether he’s asked to block on kickoff return or punt return or on offense, he goes and attacks people. And it doesn’t matter if the guy blocking him is 260 and Mike is maybe 225 or 230, Mike goes and attacks.
Q. Is that a “Jersey Guy” attitude?
John Carlson: If you want to call it that, yeah, he’s definitely got it.
Q. What’s he like off the field?
John Carlson: More of the same. You know, we’ve become pretty close friends, but he’s pretty intense in every aspect of his life.
Q. For all three of you guys, last week was the first week you were able to really pound away with some efficiency in the running game. If all three of you could just talk about what worked last week and how you try to kind of keep it going.
Travis Thomas: What I saw, we were physical across the board. Everyone was doing their job in their place at the right time and just really getting after people and getting off to the right start and able to sustain the running game more than we have in the past, and that’s something that we still have to do. That’s the way we practice and I think, you know, a lot of the results showed on Saturday.
John Carlson: I think we were more in position offensively because we were able to run the ball effectively, and if you can do that, if you can run the ball you’ll be more likely to sustain drives and it will open the play action pass and take shots down the field.
You know, being able to run the ball is key, and hopefully we can continue to play that way.
John Sullivan: The running game is always important in football and we were able to do that. And you know, it’s an important part of our game, so hopefully we can carry over some momentum for being able to do that into this weekend.
Q. Why do you think last week you were able to establish the running game for the first time?
John Sullivan: I’m not sure. I think we just went out and we played the most physical we had the entire year. We were able to execute better than we have, and I’m not sure why, but we were able to be productive and that was great.
Q. Coming off the bye week, getting your legs under you a little bit?
John Sullivan: I’m sure there were a lot of factors that went into it.
Q. Travis, you’ve worn a lot of hats over the past five years, offense, defense, special teams. Can you reflect all on of that and all of the different things you’ve done here?
Travis Thomas: Just looking back where I am now, it’s just me being a team player, and I want to do everything I can to help this team win. And I’ve been pretty much the same throughout my whole football career, going back to little league, high school, it seems that way now, and it’s a hat that I have to wear. And if it changes frequently then let it be that. But I’ve always been a team player and continue to do so.
Q. John Carlson, you’ve been through a lot of ups and downs here, what has been like one constant theme that tends to sustain you throughout your career here?
John Carlson: Honestly, I haven’t taken that step yet to look back and kind of evaluate everything because it’s not over yet. You know, I really believe we have to just take it a week at a time until the season is over.
But taking this season into account, the one thing that sticks out in my mind is the way that the players on this team, we have continued to stick together and we have continued to work hard despite some adversity we’ve had to face on the field and off. Obviously we’ve had a lot of disappointing games this year and things have not gone the way that we wanted them to go, but the one constant has been this team togetherness, I guess, and collective will to work hard.
Q. John Sullivan, you guys have had a lot of different people behind you in the backfield, has that affected the line and what have you had to do to stay focused on the task at hand?
John Sullivan: I don’t think changing personnel widely affects how we play. We’re out there to protect whoever it is, open holes for whoever is running the ball. It’s five individuals, but it’s five guys that are playing together. And you know, you need to have great chemistry and that was something that at times we struggled with, but I think we’ve really had time to groove now and I think the offensive line has had time to improve all season long. No matter who is on the offense and who is on the offensive line, we have a job to do and that’s what we are focused on doing.
Q. Talking about togetherness, how have you guys been able to do that? A lot of times when a team has the kind of season you’re having, there’s a lot of finger pointing; I should be the starter. And especially when you guys had a quarterback going back and forth, players take sides, but we haven’t seen that at all. How have you guys been able to avoid some of the things that other teams in your situation have fallen to?
John Carlson: I don’t know if it’s necessarily a conscious (decision) on any of our part to stay together. I think it’s a tribute to the character of the players on this team.
We’ve all put a lot into this and we’ve worked hard in the off season and we continue to work hard in practice. We devote a lot of time and energy into this season, and you know, I think for the guys on this team, giving up and cashing in, really isn’t an option. It’s not that we’ve gone around telling each other that. I think it’s something that we all just know intrinsically.
Q. John and Travis, Coach mentioned he’s watching that a lot this season after the games; do you guys watch for it, and how do you watch people keeping the faith through all of this?
Travis Thomas: I just think the way we carry ourselves rubs off a lot on the other people who look up to us as captains or guys on the team, teammates. Through us being leaders whether vocally or by example, it helps a lot. And as John said, we really haven’t had a problem with that due to the character of the people on this team. And I think that goes a long way with the recruiting that the coaches do to bring in the type of players that we have on this team.
You know, everyone just sticks together, helps one another in a time of need, and you know, I think that says a lot.
John Sullivan: I agree with Travis. One of the things we do with older guys and players that have faced adversity in the past is just keep focused on what’s important. Next week’s game — everything in the past isn’t important anymore, and there’s nothing that you can do about it. Kind of like the situation we’re in right now; the only thing that matters to us is Air Force this Saturday and that’s what we’re focused on. You know, it’s easy to work hard and go out there and practice hard when you have a game you’re looking forward to going and playing and trying to win.
Q. The whole losing streak, is that a top priority now? I know you want to win every game, but is that one of the things that rubs you the wrong way right now is the fact that you’re winless at home?
John Carlson: There have been a number of things that have gone wrong this year that are things we need to focus on, things on the football field, in the classroom.
Streaks are not something that we have time to worry about. We have to worry about making improvements and corrections and playing well on the football field. You know, all that peripheral stuff isn’t important.
Q. Can you talk about Air Force a little bit, their defense?
Travis Thomas: Well, all of the running backs had a meeting for over an hour and we watched a lot of games, and one of the things I noticed is that they bring a lot of pressure. So as an offensive game as a running back, one of the things we have to do is be stout and steady in our pass protection and picking up things on the run. So I think that’s going to be a key ingredient in our success this weekend.
John Carlson: One of the things I noticed, like Travis said, they do bring a lot of pressure. But other than that, I also notice they have got a lot of seniors on the defense and a lot of experienced players.
Generally speaking, when you play academies, they play hard the whole game and this definitely is the case this Saturday. You know, they bring a lot of pressure and they have got a lot of seniors so you know they are going to play really hard.
John Sullivan: Yeah, that’s the most important thing about their defense is that, you know, it’s a defense from one of the service academies, and like John said, there’s no teams in the countries that work harder than the three teams, Air Force, Navy and Army. You have to be prepared to play as tenacious as they do and with as much effort as they do for 60 minutes, because playing against those teams, you know that they are going to play hard.
Q. When you guys look back to last Saturday, I know you’re preparing for Air Force, but was there — was that game a little bit harder to get over than the previous one, the emotion of how it ended, the way it ended? Did it take a little bit longer than maybe previous losses?
John Carlson: You know I think it always hurts when you lose a game. It doesn’t matter who loses. But our philosophy all along is to take it a week at a time. Win or lose, we come in on Sundays, and we make corrections. And then when that game is over, we come back on Tuesday after a day off on Monday and it’s time to practice and prepare for the next one. Really, I think best way to get over a loss is just to get back on the practice field and just start preparing for next week.
Travis Thomas: John said it all. The only way to correct things is just to watch film and to get back out there the following practice, and, you know, just continue to work hard on fundamentals and techniques. It goes a long way and you can never overlook those little things that make the game what it is. So you know, the best way is just to go out there and practice and try and improve.
Q. Travis, can you talk about after what happened with Robert (Hughes) the last week, how important it was, getting that touchdown, allowing him to be the running back and giving him that opportunity?
Travis Thomas: It’s been a very emotional week, not only for the team, but for Robert. When you come into this program and you become part of this team, you become part of a family. Robert’s troubles become our troubles. We rallied around him, and my relationship with him as grown this year so he’s become a little brother for me. I think it was very important for him and his psyche to get that and to get things going on the right foot. I think it was a great moment for him and everyone on the team was happy for him.
Q. Can you talk about whoever is back there at quarterback, it doesn’t make a difference; is it like another position where you can interchange it? Do we over-evaluate, maybe, the importance of that particular position sometimes?
John Carlson: I’ll just say that for my position, my job doesn’t change depending on who is playing quarterback. You know, I still have to block the same on running plays and pass blocking and I still need to run the same routes.
So for me, it really doesn’t matter who is back there at quarterback.
John Sullivan: I think that’s what we’ve been saying all along is that from the perspective of our positions, we have our own jobs to take care of. None of the three of us has ever played quarterback here or anywhere for that matter. So you know I’m sure there are things that quarterback coaches and players that play that position look at. I’m sure there are differences between individuals, but as far as the three of us are concerned, you know, with our jobs, it’s an interchangeable position.
Q. Does it affect chemistry within the huddle at all?
John Sullivan: I don’t think so. Whoever is back there the entire year, really, they have all been great leaders and have all been guys that want to win and have had the right attitude for the position. As far as I’m concerned, no, it hasn’t.
John Carlson: I think it might affect chemistry if it were a player that we didn’t have confidence in, but we don’t have that problem. The guys that we have that can move back there, we’ve got faith in them, and we know that Jimmy (Clausen) can make plays and Evan (Sharpley) can make plays and they both know how to handle the huddle and we have confidence in their abilities. That’s why it’s not an issue.
Travis Thomas: We said it all year long that no matter who is back there, they are going to be prepared and the coaches are going to get them prepared and they are going to take it upon themselves to do the film study and the things necessary to get ready for the game. Like John Carlson and John Sullivan said, regardless of what position we play, we all have to do the same job week in and week out and it doesn’t change, despite who is back there at quarterback.
Q. John Carlson, you played Air Force the last year and you’ve already pointed out that they have a lot of seniors on the team, so essentially it’s the same players. Notre Dame won the game very handily, but this year, different coaching staff, different schemes and so forth. Can you take much from the game last year as you look ahead to Air Force this year?
John Carlson: Well, we watched that game and we evaluate them, but you know, like you said, there are a lot of things that are different from last year’s team. But like I said, they have got a lot of guys coming back and they have got a lot of experienced players, and they are going to play hard.
So we will evaluate last year’s game and we have been doing that. But at the same time, we have to evaluate games from this year and we have to understand that we’re not going to be playing exactly the same team with the same schemes or anything.
Q. Travis, you pointed out that the running game came back a little bit this past week against Navy, but how much of a factor was it that you were playing a service academy team, maybe not the caliber of athletes that some of the other teams have; was it a case that you were playing Navy, or was it a case that Notre Dame’s running game actually really came on there?
Travis Thomas: I think our running game finally came to life and it’s just a result of the hard work we’ve put in, you know, regardless who we play.
Navy played as hard as any team on our schedule, and we know that going into the game. That’s something that the academies bring. It’s not the schemes that we were running, the guys that we’re running, the receivers; everyone was clicking and on the same page, and I just think that’s a testament to the hard work we’ve put in and you know, we saw results.
Q. For John Sullivan, from a player’s point of view, how humbling has this season been for Notre Dame? Everybody around the country always thinks of Notre Dame as being among the elite teams. The record hasn’t held out this year. How humbling has it been for a player that way?
John Sullivan: It’s been a difficult season in some respects, you know, but I think I speak for all three captains when I say despite our record, we are all still really proud of this team and really proud of this season so far.
You know, it’s easy to stay positive and it’s easy to work hard when your team is winning and maybe if the record was 8-1, it would be easy to say the right things and do the right things in the practice field and off the practice field.
But this team has really lived up to the character of Notre Dame, and it’s lived up to the tradition, despite our record. I’m proud of the older guys, I’m proud of the younger guys. You know, it’s a humbling experience to be 1-8, but at the same time, that can all happen. That’s why you play the game. But we haven’t given up and we’re not going to give up until the 2007 Notre Dame team has played their last game. We’ll be there fighting to the end.
Q. From a player’s point of view, can you summarize in your opinion what has happened?
John Sullivan: I mean, we’ve only won one game. The best way to summarize it is we’ve gone out and worked hard every week and unfortunately only one time at the end of the game this year did we score more points than our opponent has and that’s really what it comes down to. There’s nothing that we can do to change the past, but, you know, we can look ahead and to these last three games and just try to go out and win every one of them.
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