Nov. 16, 2001
by Bo Rottenborn
Forty-three Irish seniors will play their last game in Notre Dame Stadium this week when Notre Dame takes on Navy. Over their careers, these individuals have contributed to the legacy of Notre Dame football. The seniors have played on Jan. 1 twice, including helping Notre Dame to its first Bowl Championship Series berth a season ago. In their first game together in 1998, the Irish upset fifth-ranked and defending national champion Michigan 36-20 in Notre Dame Stadium, establishing a routine of domination at home they would continue throughout their careers. This group enters their final home game with a record of 19-5 at home, including close losses to top teams such as fourth-ranked Tennessee this season and then-top-ranked Nebraska a year ago (in overtime).
The 2001 captains are four Irish seniors who have been important to Notre Dame’s success. Three of the captains, Anthony Weaver, Rocky Boiman and Grant Irons have anchored one of the best defenses in the nation this season. But their contributions to Notre Dame football did not begin in 2001.
Defensive tackle Weaver has been on the field for nearly all of the ups and downs over the past four years. He enters this week having started 38 of his 41 games in an Irish uniform. His experience and leadership have helped mold this year’s defense into the 12th-ranked unit in the nation.
Boiman took over his starting linebacker role as a sophomore and has been one of the most consistent Irish defenders since then. His hard-nosed, 100-percent-effort-all-the-time style has been cited by many as a throwback to the style of past Notre Dame defensive greats and as someone exciting to watch on every play.
Irons has spent five years in the Irish program after injuring his shoulder in the second game of the season in 2000 and returning this year for a fifth year. Irons burst onto the scene as a freshman in 1997, making an immediate impact, playing in every game and starting three, while recording 50 tackles. Four years later, he will leave as someone respected by the entire Notre Dame community for his hard work, selfless giving and magnetic personality.
Flanker and co-captain David Givens has been an important part of the Irish offense over his career, not only because of his receiving prowess, but as a major cause of headaches for opposing teams due to his explosive ability and willingness to run the ball (four career rushing touchdowns) and throw the ball (two-for-three for 73 yards passing and one touchdown). He also has been a key leader to this year’s offense.
The rest of the seniors have also made important contributions.
Arnaz Battle is one of the top flankers for the Irish this season after beginning 2000 as the top quarterback. He led the Irish to a 24-10 victory over then 23rd-ranked Texas A&M in his first career start and then nearly pulled off an upset of top-ranked Nebraska the following week. Battle ran for 107 yards in the 27-24 overtime loss, but broke his left wrist on the first play and missed the rest of the season.
Two other important receivers are winding down their collegiate careers. Javin Hunter has had a strong senior campaign, starting all eight games at split end and making more catches this season than he did in his entire career prior to this year. John Owens, who converted from defensive end to tight end this year, also has made some receptions in key situations.
The Irish running game will be hit hard by the loss of five seniors in the backfield. Tony Fisher led Notre Dame in rushing as a sophomore and has been a consistent contributor since then, on pace to finish his career with over 2,000 career yards. Terrance Howard has been an explosive runner for the Irish, scoring six touchdowns in his career.
All three fullbacks for Notre Dame are seniors in 2001. Tom Lopienski first began handling the starting duties as a sophomore, while Jason Murray and Mike McNair have been valuable in reserve roles.
Eight offensive line seniors have been significant to the Irish cause. Starters Jordan Black, Kurt Vollers and Sean Mahan have been important contributors this season, while John Teasdale started all 10 games he played last year. JW Jordan, Ryan Scarola and Casey Robin have also been valuable at times in backup roles, while John Crowther’s long-snapping abilities will be difficult to replace.
Elsewhere on special teams, Adam Tibble’s holding has been a key to the resurgence of the Irish kicking game, while David Miller handled starting kicking duties at times over his career.
In addition to Weaver and Irons, defensive end Ryan Roberts and nose guard Andy Wisne are senior starters on the defensive line. After taking over the first-team duties a season ago, Roberts was a force until he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in the Tennessee game. Wisne has also seen much onfield time in his career and was having a successful 2001 season prior to suffering a concussion against Boston College.
At linebacker, Tyreo Harrison, along with Boiman, is a veteran that will be missed. Harrison is the leading Irish tackler this season and has started his last 18 games. Chad DeBolt, Brian Dierckman and Carlos Pierre-Antoine all saw time in backup roles.
The secondary will be most hurt by the departure of this senior class, as it consists of four players who have been starters and two more who have contributed. Ron Israel, Donald Dykes, Shane Walton and Clifford Jefferson have combined for over 330 tackles in their careers, while Dwayne Francis and Justin Smith have helped in nickel and dime packages.
Others who have contributed to the success on the program include all of the walk-ons, who have spent countless hours on the scout just hoping for a chance to play one down. Those walk-ons include Bernard Akatu, Jeffrey Campbell, Mike Klockner, Ryan Krueger, Chris Mahoney, Eric Nelson, Tim O’Neill and Matthew Sarb.
The final home game for the Irish seniors will feature a showdown with the United States Naval Academy and a chance for them to add to the storied tradition of Notre Dame football. The Irish have defeated Navy 37 consecutive times, an NCAA record for consecutive wins over one opponent. The last win by the Midshipmen came in 1963 when fourth-ranked Navy came to Notre Dame Stadium and downed the Irish 35-14.
Despite the long streak of Irish success, the past two games at Notre Dame Stadium have been competitive contests. In 1999, Navy led 24-21 in the final minute before Jarious Jackson found Jay Johnson for a 16-yard touchdown with 36 seconds remaining to clinch the Irish victory. In that game, sophomore quarterback, and current starter, Brian Madden made his first career start and rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown for Navy. The Middies also led in the fourth quarter of the 1997 game before the Irish scored with just under six minutes remaining to seal a 21-17 win on a rainy November day at Notre Dame.
The Midshipmen are coached by Rick Lantz, who took over as interim head coach after Charlie Weatherbie was relieved of his duties the day after Navy’s loss to Toledo. In just his second game as a collegiate head coach, the former defensive coordinator will face a school with which he is familiar. From 1984-85, Lantz served as defensive line coach at Notre Dame during the last two seasons of the Gerry Faust era.
Navy comes to Notre Dame having dropped all eight games it has played this season and having lost 18 of its last 19 after finishing 1-10 a season ago. But Navy has faced five teams that currently sport winning records and a few that have been in and out of the national top 25 all season, including Georgia Tech (6-3), Boston College (6-3), Air Force (5-4), Rice (7-3) and Toledo (6-1).
The Midshipmen have had some close games that could have turned into victories. Navy took early leads against Boston College, Air Force, Rice and Toledo and rallied to trail by just four in the final period against Rutgers, but the Middies came up short on each occasion.
After the coaching change and a bye week, Navy played host to Tulane last week. The Green Wave scored the first 21 points of the game and won a high-scoring shootout 42-28. Madden ran for a career-high 201 yards and scored three times in the loss.
The senior quarterback has rushed for 760 yards in six games, averaging 126.7 yards per contest, which ranks him as the 12th-leading rusher in the nation. He leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards per game, averaging over than 30 yards more than any other Division IA signalcaller. His 94-yard performance on the ground against Rice is the only time he has been under 100 yards. Madden has scored seven rushing touchdowns and thrown four more.
Madden has been the key to a resurgence in the Navy rushing attack over the past few weeks. The Middies have averaged nearly 280 yards on the ground over their last three games.
Navy will be televised nationally in their final two quests for victory this season. This week’s contest will be shown on NBC, while their season finale in two weeks against Army at Veterans Stadium will be carried live on CBS. The Middies have beaten Army in each of the past two seasons, including a 30-28 victory last year to prevent a winless season.