Tatum Is Emerging From The Shadows

By Mike Day

Kinnon Tatum leads the Irish in tackles this season.

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Way out in the darkness, in an abyss beyond the shadows, lurks a truly dangerous specimen.

Without a hint of his presence, he quietly waits for his next victim. And when the moment arrives, he strikes in the blink of an eye, delivering a jarring, earth-shaking attack on the unsuspecting prey. And with that, he quickly slides back into the shadows.

Linebacker Kinnon Tatum is not the most recognizable name on the Notre Dame defense. In fact, of the four starting linebackers, he is often lost in the shuffle, taking a back seat to the bigger names and the higher profiles.

Guys like Lyron Cobbins, Bert Berry, and Kory Minor are mentioned with the frequency of one of Tatum’s bone-crushing tackles. But it seems that no matter how many tackles he records or how many players he sends crawling to the sidelines, Tatum always manages to hide in the shadows of the more heralded Cobbins, Berry, and Minor.

“It is hard for me to explain,” said defensive coordinator Bob Davie. “Cobbins has had the opportunity to get his hands on a lot of balls, so his name always comes up. Bert Berry and Kory Minor play the rush linebacker position where they can get a lot of sacks. And sacks seem to attract attention.”

“But I’ll say one thing. Since I’ve been here, I don’t think a player on this team has improved more than Kinnon Tatum.”

While his fellow members of the linebacker quartet, nicknamed “The Headbangers,” grab all the headlines, Tatum is perfectly content with plugging along and quietly taking care of business.

“That kind of stuff really doesn’t matter to me,” said Tatum. “My job is to go out and compete to the best of my ability. I know the rest will just take care of itself.”

Even though the fans and media may lose sight of what Tatum has accomplished in two years as a starter, his teammates and coaches are first in line to acknowledge what the senior middle linebacker means to the Irish defense.

“He is the glue of the defense,” said Minor. “He makes it all go. Kinnon never misses an assignment and is always in the right place at the right time. Without him, this defense would not be what it is.”

“Kinnon Tatum is absolutely dynamite,” said Cobbins. “His tenacity and intensity in every game and practice is what makes him a great linebacker…And nobody hits like Kinnon Tatum.”

Kinnon Tatum doesn’t just tackle; he makes a statement. Any running back or receiver who plans on traveling Tatum’s way is forced to think twice about it. In two years as a starter, the 6-foot, 224-pound mass of muscle has developed a knack of delivering punishing blows that can be felt throughout the stadium.

“It is definitely something I take pride in,” said Tatum. “I just try to give it everything I’ve got and never let up. If you let up, you’re cheating yourself. A big hit shows that you’re giving it your all and did not let up at any point in the play.”

The results speak for themselves. After ranking second on the Irish in 1995 with 82 tackles, Tatum has elevated his game to another level. Referred to by many as “The Hitter,” the middle linebacker leads the Irish with 68 tackles and has tallied a sack and one interception this season.

“The opportunities to make plays have been there, and I’ve just tried to take advantage of them,” said Tatum. “In our style of defense, the middle linebackers have to make plays, so that’s what Lyron and myself have tried to do.”

Playing in the shadows is nothing new to Tatum. As a defensive back out of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Tatum followed in the footsteps of current NFL standouts Donnell Woolford of the Chicago Bears and Brad Edwards of the Washington Redskins.

“There’s always been someone ahead of me who sort of set the standard for me to reach,” said Tatum. “I’ve never tried to be anyone else. I just want to be my self and reach the goals that I set out to accomplish.”

Recruited as a safety, Tatum was switched to linebacker just after he arrived at Notre Dame. The switch paid immediate dividends for the Irish as Tatum started four games as a freshman when starter Jeremy Sample went down with an injury.

Following a successful freshman year, Tatum was forced to take a smaller role in 1994 with the return of Sample. Despite the setback, Tatum did not give up and even benefited from the tutelage of Sample and fellow inside linebacker Justin Goheen.

“I had a lot of playing time for a freshman, so it was a pretty frustrating sophomore year,” Tatum said. “I learned a lot though, and I never gave up. I think that the experience benefited me in the long run.”

As starters over the last two years, “The Headbangers” have formed a close-knit group, feeding off each other’s success. And by banging the most heads on the football field, “The Hitter” does not take a back seat to anyone.

“I can’t begin to describe how much he means to this defense,” said Davie. “To be successful, we need Kinnon Tatum to have a big game. He disrupts a lot of things that the other offense is trying to do, and we can capitalize on that.”

“He is a great player, but he is a fantastic person too,” said Berry. “He’s kind of a jokester, and he helps keep the guys loose. And I say this from deep down: I am a better person from knowing Kinnon Tatum.”

As he prepares for his final home game this Saturday against Rutgers, Tatum realizes that it will be a moment he remembers for the rest of his life.

“It will be an emotional time for me and the rest of the seniors,” said Tatum. “It’s our last home game and the last home game for Coach Holtz. We want to go out giving it our best.”

And with that, he slides back into the shadows again.