This Saturday the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium against a formidable opponent the Nevada Wolfpack. The Wolfpack led the WAC in nearly every offensive category both on the ground and in the air led by Junior Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (one of the top QB's in the country).
Much has been said over the last few weeks as we get closer to the start of the college football season as to Coach Weis being on the hot seat, the evolution of Jimmy Clausen, the rise of Manti Teo, the impressive preseason performances of Shaq Evans, Kapron Lewis Moore and Darius Flemming.
From top to bottom at every position the Irish have made significant strides in talent, depth and intelligence. New staff such as Coach Verducci, Coach Hart and Coach Alford have elevated the teams moxie and football IQ as they head into Week 1.
Although 40 yard dash times and big play ability are what define the modern athlete in today's game, it is what happens off the field that makes this Irish team special. Over the past decade Irish fans have lost their way, forgeting what being a Notre Dame fan is all about. It is about appreciating the academic, spiritual and athletic abilities of the players and having success both on and off the field and doing things the right way not the easy way. Yes it would be easy for Weis to start Manti T'eo and Shaq Evans this weekend but instead he starts senior Scott Smith and Robby Paris because it is the right thing to do respecting the upper classmen effort and dedication during their tenure.
Over the off season Scott Smith selflessly went out of his way to teach freshman sensation Manti T'eo learn the defensive playbook and understand his position. Smith will inevitably loose the starting spot to T'eo who has far superior size, speed and overall talent which makes Smith's act all the more impressive.
On many college programs an act like this may go unnoticed but at Notre Dame character matters and Scott Smith was elected captain of the special teams.
Also over the offseason senior tailback James Aldridge who ended last season on a strong note was moved to the less favorable fullback position where he will be used more as a blocker than a runner.
While many seniors would be upset by the move, Aldridge has embraced it with his team-first attitude and sheer desire to win football games. It was clear in his most recent press conference that winning games means far more to him than his own personal accolades.
James came into Notre Dame as a highly touted running back and it is safe to say his career was not was anyone envisioned; however, he has been a leader and maintained a positive attitude that has inspired his teammates and the Notre Dame coaching staff.
Regardless of how many carries Aldridge gets this season he has scored much more than he ever could have done on the football field with his selfless attitude.
Last but certainly not least has been the work of Manti T'eo, the highly decorated freshman linebacker from Hawaii. Unlike Jimmy Clausen who came to Notre Dame with similar hype, T'eo has worked ferociously to earn his spot on the field this upcoming Saturday and earned it he has.
With the speed, size and vision of an elite college linebacker Manti is as impressive off the field as he is on it. An incredibly humble young man he talked to the media about the importance of being a good person inside and being a man of "worth" and not necessarily a man of success.
He credits his family, the coaching staff and the upper classmen for preparing him for what appears to be a highly successful career with the Irish.
When I take a step back from the predictions this season, the Weis hot seat and many other subjects pertaining to this football team I cant help but be reminded through these players actions why I love Notre Dame football and its because of the character of its players.
These are student athletes who live by christian values and work together for goals greater than their own, winning games the right way.
This year's Notre Dame team is going to be exciting as they have the players in place to win games; but before you get caught up in the scores and records of this team remember the student athletes that put that jersey and represent the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame both on and off the field.