Aug. 13, 2002

By Alan Wasielewski

If you search for one constant among the changes in the Notre Dame football program over the last year, senior center Jeff Faine stands above the fray. The anchor of the 2002 Irish offensive line, Faine has been hiking the ball to the Notre Dame quarterback for 22 consecutive starts and is regarded as one of the best centers in the nation.

Notre Dame has a new coaching staff and a new offensive scheme in 2002. The offensive linemen who have entered the fall battles to Faine’s left and right over the last two seasons have shifted positions numerous times throughout their career. Among all the new looks on the Irish team, Faine remains a reliable force in the middle of the offense. Faine has transformed that reliability into a leadership role on the team.

“I think every senior on this team should understand that his role is to be a leader,” Faine says.

Known among his teammates as one of the hardest workers during Notre Dame’s off-season workout program, Faine likes to set the tone (along with his fellow offensive linemen) in the Loftus Sports Center weight room.

“I take it upon myself to push really hard in the weight room.” Faine says.

“Together with the ‘o-line,’ we like to get it done with the weights. The ‘o-line’ brought it together and pushed very hard during the summer. A lot of guys stepped up and showed leadership qualities during the workouts. The younger guys grew up a lot this summer both mentally and physically.”

Hard work during the off-season will hopefully turn into healthy gains for the Irish offense in 2002. The offensive line, on paper, is one of the strengths for Notre Dame this fall. In addition to Faine, starting linemen Jordan Black (left tackle), Sean Mahan (left guard), Sean Milligan (right guard) and Brennan Curtin (right tackle) are healthy and ready to establish themselves as one of the best units in the nation.

“I think that (the offensive line experience) is what this team has to look at,” Faine says.

“It will be a big deal for us to gel early, because we have a tough schedule. It is usually hard for a offensive line to gel before a season begins, but I think we have an opportunity to do that this year.”

The standout among Notre Dame’s offensive line, Faine is one of the best centers in the nation. He has been named to the Lombardi Award watch list, Street & Smith’s preseason All-America team and was selected to Athlon’s preseason second-team All-America list. Lindy’s and the Sporting News also ranked Faine as the fifth-best center in the country this season.

The Lombardi voters also should note that although new Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham and offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick have installed a new offensive system, Faine has already reached a comfort zone with the offensive line’s responsibilities.

“It is very similar to what we have done in the past,” Faine says.

“It wasn’t a big deal to bridge the gap between the two programs and make it one. We have come a long way and are a lot further than we were in the spring.”

Perhaps Faine’s comfort zone with the new offensive system had something to do with his attitude toward working with a new position coach, offensive coordinator and head coach.

“It is a new start with some new coaches and it gives you and opportunity to learn new things,” Faine says.

“A lot of people look at (the coaching change) as a negative, but I look at it as a positive. You can learn some things that the old position coach might not have taught you. It is just a different perspective and I think it is always good to work with someone new. It gives you the opportunity to keep improving.”

The Notre Dame football team has gone through a series of changes in the last eight months, but players like Jeff Faine have provided reliable and constant production and leadership that will keep the team on solid footing in 2002.