Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Evan, Jimmy, and Demetrius Still in the Hunt at QB

Big news today from Coach Weis. After telling the Notre Dame faithful all Spring that his plan was to narrow the quarterback competition from four candidates to two by the end of May, Charlie has called an audible and changed his plan at the line of scrimmage.

It was announced today that Sharpley, Clausen, and Jones would continue to battle for playing time this Fall, with Zach Frazer as the odd man out. From Coach Weis:

After concluding spring ball evaluations, Evan Sharpley, Demetrius Jones and Jimmy Clausen remain as the main contenders. Each of these three young men brought something unique to the QB competition. Evan ran the operation the best, Jimmy threw the ball the best, and Demetrius made the most plays. For these reasons, they will compete for playing time.
Wow. First of all, I feel bad for Zach Frazer. He announced very publicly in the Spring that he was confident that he was the leading candidate for the job. I guess not. While most reports had Frazer throwing the ball really well, his performance in the Spring game (0 for 4 with an INT) was a disappointment, and it looked like he was having trouble executing the offense and reading the defenses. Hopefully Zach will stay at ND, because in my view you can't have too many quarterbacks, and we might need him some day. But it is also very possible, if he wants to get on the field, that he would transfer. Good luck to him whichever path he chooses.

Second, Coach Weis said a mouthful with a few choice phrases.
  • "Evan ran the operation the best." I take it to mean that he's the guy right now, because he can get the play called, get to the line, and execute the offense right now, while the other guys are still trailing in that regard.
  • "Jimmy threw the ball the best." I take that to mean that JC is the guy Weis envisions as his QB as soon as he is able to "run the operation" as well, or nearly as well, as Sharpley.
  • "Demetrius made the most plays." Coach Weis has often said that he goes by what he sees. He doesn't play guys based on potential, but based on what he sees in practice and on the field. And apparently, what Charlie sees in Jones is a guy who makes plays on the field, despite not running the operation the best, or throwing the ball the best. Jones is a playmaker, and you want your playmakers on the field.
What does it all mean? It means that Zach Frazer separated himself by falling behind the other three guys, but nobody separated themselves from the others by stepping out front. Reading the tea leaves, I think Evan Sharpley gets first shot in the Fall, based upon his experience at running the offense. But he's on a short leash. If he doesn't "make plays" then Jones and Clausen will battle it out to see who can move the team the best - Clausen primarily with his arm, or Jones as a dual pass-run threat. At the end of the day, Coach Weis will go by what he sees on the field. Whichever QB moves the team best and makes the most plays will be the starter, regardless of "potential." At the end of the day, it might be the team that decides. Sometimes a team just responds better, plays better, for a particular quarterback. Which quarterback will most quickly earn the loyalty, respect, and confidence of his teammates?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Buckeyes Ought to be Ashamed (Wimpy Scheduling at Ohio State)

We're nearing the end of May, and quite frankly it's hard to find meaty college football topics to write about. So I'm bumping around the web and I stumble across this nugget:

The vacancy left at Ohio State by the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith has not been filled. Fourth-year junior Todd Boeckman seems to be the leading candidate, but third-year sophomore Rob Schoenhoft apparently had a better spring game. Coach Jim Tressel has not made a choice and said three quarterbacks -- Boeckman, Schoenhoft and redshirt freshman Antonio Henton -- will play in the Buckeyes' season opener against Youngstown State.
As a Notre Dame fan, I sympathize with the difficult task facing the Buckeyes - trying to sort out your inexperienced quarterback prospects to find "THE" replacement for the guy who has been your franchise player for multiple seasons. Charlie Weis is trying to sort out which of four talented young quarterbacks will succeed Brady Quinn. Notre Dame Nation is holding its collective breath waiting for Coach Weis to announce, any day now, which two of those four kids will be the leading candidates heading into Fall practice.

But then I read the above snippet again. Coach Tressel announced - in May - that all three of his quarterback candidates will play in the Buckeyes' season opener. Against Youngstown State.

Boy, it must be nice to open your Brutal Big Ten Schedule with a scrimmage against a Div. I-AA team so that you can sort through your depth chart at quarterback. Still, it seems risky to me to split all those reps in Fall practice among three guys. I mean, after Y-Town, you have the rest of your Brutal Big Ten Schedule to play, and your eventual starter will need those reps in practice to get ready. Or not. Because after the Youngstown scrimmage, mighty Akron rolls into Columbus. The Zips. I suppose Coach T could play all three QBs in that game too without much risk of an embarrassing defeat. But eventually Ohio State has to pick a quarterback and play a real football game, right? Well, sort of. Finally, in week three, the Buckeyes leave the friendly confines of Columbus and head west to face the fierce Huskies of the University of Washington, coached by that crazed, relentless, mad genius of coaching - Ty Willingham. The very early pre-season polls have Washington just barely outside the Top 50 teams in Division I-A. (54th at College Football News and 55th at Athlon).

What the heck is going on here? Hey Buckeye Fan, do have any freaking pride at all? Here is the 2007 Football Schedule for THE Ohio State University Buckeyes, along with the earliest post-2006/pre-2007 rankings of their opponents from College Football News and Athlon Sports, respectively. Plus some commentary from OC Domer.

  1. 9/1 Youngstown State, in Columbus. Not ranked by either publication, since Y-Town is a Division I-AA program. But Y-Town is a Top 10 team in I-AA, according to these guys, who have them ranked at #4, behind Appalachian State, Montana, and North Dakota State.
  2. 9/8 Akron, in Columbus. #95/#93. Another nice home game for the faithful, who are no doubt happy to have camped out to get these tickets.
  3. 9/15 Washington, in Seattle. #54/#55. Week three and OSU still hasn't played a Top 50 team, although UW is in a BCS conference, which is nice.
  4. 9/22 Northwestern, in Columbus. #66/#75. The beginning of the Brutal Big Ten Schedule. I guess Northwestern is another team from a BCS conference, technically. Good thing it's at home though, as crowds in Evanston can be very hostile.
  5. 9/29 Minnesota, in Minneapolis. #46/#53. It's week 5, and hopefully the Buckeyes are finally prepared to go on the road, all the way to Minnesota, to face a team that is arguably, maybe in the Top 50.
  6. 10/6 Purdue, in East Lafayette. #53/#51. The gauntlet that is life in the Big Ten continues with another road game against a team that is almost Top 50 caliber.
  7. 10/13 Kent State, in Columbus. #88/#103. Is it fair to call this one a breather? A chance to recover from three intense weeks of conference play, including back-to-back road games versus near-Top-50 teams. I wish I could be there to feel the electricity in the air as the Buckeyes take the field against their in-state rivals.
  8. 10/20 Michigan State, in Columbus. #60/#77. Good job OSU to play these guys in your own house, as Irish fans know how tough they can be in East Lansing. But still, a normally respectable opponent who has fallen on hard times and who shouldn't cause a TOP 10 OSU team too much trouble.
  9. 10/27 Penn State, in Happy Valley. #24/#17. I know week 9 seems a little early to play a Top 25 team, but you're just going to have to man up and do the best you can. Hopefully by now you will have sorted out your quarterback depth chart. This is probably the first game on your schedule where it will matter who the QB is.
  10. 11/3 Wisconsin, in Columbus. #5/#9. Well, it is November. This should be a doozy of a game, if OSU can avoid the landmines littered throughout September and October.
  11. 11/10 Illinois, in Columbus. #61/#86. That's more like it.
  12. 11/17 Michigan, in Ann Arbor. #10/#8. There's nothing cute to say about this one. Always a great game, and it figures once again to loom large in the hunt for the National Championship.
No doubt Ohio State's schedule has a kick at the end, with three games against Top 25 teams in the final month. But the Buckeyes have the equivalent of eight straight scrimmages to open the season in order to get ready for the last month. Eight weeks to pick a quarterback and get him plenty of experience and confidence. Eight weeks to rest any bumps and bruises. Eight weeks to develop depth. Eight weeks to scout PSU, Wisconsin and Michigan.

For an "elite" program, the opening eight weeks of the 2007 season are an embarrassment. OSU's loyal fans get treated to home games against Y-Town, Akron, Northwestern, Kent State, and Michigan State during that stretch.

I don't normally devote space at OC Domer to calling out other programs - unless it's USC - but I have to make an exception in this case. Hey Ohio State: Your Brutal Big Ten Schedule is a joke. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves and your athletic director. And Coach Tressel's mom dresses him funny.

OC Domer International (Update)

OC Domer recently had a visit from Japan. While adding Japan to the OC Domer International Honor Roll in the right-hand margin of our web page, I noticed that all the links to the CIA World Fact Book pages for each of the listed countries was broken. Apparently the busy little spies at the CIA have been working on their web pages and changed the url conventions for the World Fact Book. So I went in and edited the links for all twenty-one countries so they are working again.

Which brings me to the point of this post: OC Domer has now had visitors from twenty-one foreign countries! At least, they're foreign to me. It might be more accurate to state that we've had visitors from twenty-one countries not named the United States of America. Welcome to all of our international readers! I assume most of you are Domers scattered across the globe for more or less noble purposes, representing Our Lady's University with distinction. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you return often.

And a special shout out to our readers in Poland! Apparently, OC Domer is very big there, which is very cool since the OC Domer is 25% Polish himself.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tom Thornton makes me proud to be a Domer

I had never in my life heard of Tom Thornton before this morning, when some news stories about him started popping up on the web. But Tom Thornton and the thousands like him are why I am so proud to be a Domer.

Who the heck is Tom Thornton? Tom Thornton is (was) a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame. Student. Athlete. Not an athlete masquerading as a student in order to barely maintain his eligibility. But a true student, working hard in the classroom (and outside the classroom), to get a world-class education as well as a degree. And a pretty good athlete on the side, elected as a co-captain of the baseball team by his teammates in his senior year and compiling a 7-3 record in 15 pitching starts his final season last Spring. Tom was drafted by the Detroit Tigers last June in the 21st round, and right now is working hard in the Can-Am league trying to make it to the Big Leagues.

So what has Tom Thornton been up to lately? Working on his slider, perhaps? Well, no. Tom just returned from Nairobi where he has been working on a research grant trying to learn more about the earliest use of fire by man, over a million years ago. Putting his anthropology degree to work.

For too many fans of the Fighting Irish, it's all about the football team. How good is our coach? How many games are we going to win? Can I get tickets to the game? But football is only a piece of the puzzle at Notre Dame. It's a high profile piece, an important piece, but only one piece. Another piece of that puzzle is Notre Dame's Catholic character. And Tom Thornton is another piece. Notre Dame is one of those rare Division I colleges that both preaches and practices the concept of the true student-athlete. Notre Dame recruits athletes who were successful and committed students in high school, and then when they arrive at the University, Notre Dame expects those student-athletes to work as hard in the classroom as on the field to earn their degrees. Real degrees. Like degrees in anthropology.

Yet again this year Notre Dame has been recognized for it's success in educating its student athletes. This makes me proud to be a Domer. When young men like Tom Thornton represent the University of Notre Dame with class and distinction around the world; when Tim Brown, Chris Zorich, Brady Quinn, & Co. are interviewed on national television and present themselves as articulate, educated, thoughtful young men of character, it makes me exceedingly proud. Proud of what it means to be a Notre Dame graduate. Proud of the excellence that my degree and my University represent.

And so, I want to thank and congratulate all the Notre Dame student-athletes who work so hard to make themselves better, to make the University better, and, as a by-product, to make all of us Domers so proud. Good luck to you all as you take your Notre Dame degrees out into the world. And good luck to Tom Thornton.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The May Evaluation Period

Every coaching staff has it's own philosophy and style when it comes to recruiting student athletes, and I don't think anyone can honestly argue that there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to do it. But it can nonetheless be instructive to survey the different approaches to recruiting to see what lessons can be drawn from observing how coaches at the highest levels approach this critical task.

The amazing team at Blue-Gray Sky has assembled a graphical representation of Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis' recruiting activities during the "May Evaluation Period" this year, using Google's innovative new "My Maps" feature. A quick look at the map vividly demonstrates that Coach Weis takes an energetic, hands-on, almost frenetic approach to recruiting. While Coach Weis' energy and commitment are no doubt to be admired, one has to wonder: Who is back at Notre Dame coordinating the recruiting effort? Who is on the bridge, so to speak, piloting the ship? Is it really wise to let the assistants operate for prolonged periods without oversight? It's easy to see both the "pros" and the "cons" of having a head coach out on the road criss-crossing the country for the entire month.

A different philosophy can be examined by looking at a Google "My Maps" re-creation of the May 2004 evaluation period unearthed by the intrepid staff at Classic Ground. Even a cursory look at this map reveals that Coach Tyrone Willingham and his staff took a much more "business-like" approach to recruiting, with Coach Willingham in the role of CEO, delegating the tedious travel and grunt work to his assistants, while he was able to stay at the University and coordinate the effort, keeping constantly apprised of new situations on the ground as they developed. By resisting the temptation to do everything himself, Ty was able to put his talents to better use watching film, "evaluating" talent and refining the overall recruiting strategy. It is easy to criticize Coach Willingham for not managing the public relations aspect of recruiting better, for not staging flashy "photo ops" at the high schools of top recruits. But such an approach would have been out of character for who he is, and you have to credit Coach Ty for remaining true to himself, for keeping it real.

So what conclusions can we draw from these two contrasting, yet highly successful recruiting strategies? Oh heck - who are we kidding? Coach Weis and his staff have made Coach Willingham look like a rank amateur, and one can only be embarassed for Notre Dame's former coach, and grateful that Charlie has returned to Our Lady's University to (hopefully) restore the Golden Dome to its former lustre.

Mad props to BGS and Classic Ground for their "My Maps" analyses.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Springtime in South Bend

High winds wrought havoc at the University of Notre Dame yesterday, bringing down dozens of trees and even toppling one of the spires adorning Sacred Heart Basilica. Thankfully nobody was injured. It must be graduation time! I vividly recall my graduation weeekend at Notre Dame, when robust thunderstorms swept through the area and a lightning bolt scored a direct hit on the top of my dorm (Carroll Hall) in the middle of the night. Ahh, good times. And, of course, some students saw in yesterday's wind storm a unique opportunity to help begin the cleanup effort by taking home a souvenir. Or an armful of souvenirs. Look for "Basilica Bits" to start showing up on ebay any day now.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. When I was a student at Notre Dame they were demolishing the old fieldhouse, and I still have a couple of the bricks that I picked up on a late night trip to the site.

Hopefully they'll get the place cleaned up in time for graduation. I suspect that they'll be able to scrape together the money to repair the Basilica from somewhere.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jim Brown Played Lacrosse

Jim Brown, considered by many to have been the greatest running back in NFL history, is also considered by most to have been the greatest lacrosse player of all time. A year ago that bit of trivia constituted the sum total of my knowledge about lacrosse. But I figured if all-time bad-ass Jim Brown played the sport, it must have something going for it. Then last Summer, my son came home and asked if he could sign up for a two-week lacrosse clinic with his buddies. Then he tried out and played for the 7th grade team at his school. He played club lacrosse this Spring, and now we're figuring out which league to put him in for the Summer. Yeah, he likes this new sport. And what 13 year old boy wouldn't? They get to wear cool gear and run around the field smashing into each other and beating on one another with titanium poles. Cross-country running appears to be a thing of the past in the OC Domer household.

A confluence of somewhat recent events has raised my level of consciousness about the Notre Dame lacrosse program. A little over a year ago Freshman Will Yeatman (from California) committed to play football at Notre Dame, and it was announced that he would play lacrosse as well. I didn't even know at that point that Notre Dame had a lacrosse team. Then my son started playing the game. The last glorious piece of the puzzle to fall into place was that my cable company started carrying ESPNU! So it was that I sat glued to the television last Saturday as the unseeded Fighting Irish took the #3 seed Johns Hopkins University Blue Jays into overtime before finally losing in the first round of the 2007 NCAA mens lacrosse championship tournament. While the overtime loss was disappointing, I was very impressed by how competitive Notre Dame has become in a sport that has been dominated by east coast schools for more than a century.

If you look at the sixteen teams that qualified for the 2007 NCAA tournament, Notre Dame is the westernmost school by a long shot. Notre Dame won the Great Western Lacrosse League (GWLL) to qualify for the NCAA tourney largely on the strength of a win over traditional midwestern power Ohio State. But the sport is moving west. Will Yeatman played high school lacrosse in the San Diego area. My son and his buddies are part of an explosion of youth lacrosse in Orange County. Our local high school (Beckman) just won its first league championship in varsity lacrosse, while another Tustin high school (Foothill) just won the CIF Southern Section Championship.

Lacrosse at the college level in California is dominated by the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League (WCLL), which has 30 member schools grouped into six divisions. The final 2007 standings for "Division A - Los Angeles" features the University of Southern California Trojans mired in fifth place out of six teams, behind such powerhouses as Chapman University, UC Santa Barbara, Loyola Marymount, and Claremont College. In fact, my son and I attended the game between Chapman University (from Orange County) and USC earlier this year, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the whipping that Chapman put on the Trojans, beating them by a score of 13 to 2. It was 10 - 0 at halftime.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to the three points of this post:

  1. Congratulations to the Notre Dame mens lacrosse team on a great season!
  2. Lacrosse is a really great sport. If you have kids who are looking for a fun sport to play, you really ought to check it out.
  3. Notre Dame was one 16 teams to qualify for the NCAA championship tournament in lacrosse, while USC has a club team that can't hang with Claremont College. How does that taste, Tommy Trojan?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Notre Dame, Our Mother

Notre Dame, our Mother
Tender, strong and true
Proudly in the heavens,
Gleams thy gold and blue.
Glory's mantle cloaks thee
Golden is thy fame,
And our hearts forever,
Praise thee, Notre Dame.
And our hearts forever,
Love thee, Notre Dame.

In celebration of Mother's Day, I am dedicating this post to Our Lady of the Lake, and I encourage all members of the Notre Dame family to remember her as well on Sunday as they honor all the moms in their lives (depending on your particular situation that could be "Mom", wife, sister, daughter, neighbor, friend, or even a stranger in need of an encouraging word). It seems too obvious to mention, but devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been remarkable throughout the history of the University of Notre Dame. The University is, of course, named for her. The most significant architectural feature of the University is topped by a 16 foot gilded statue of her. And the most significant place of worship at Notre Dame is not the Basilica, but the Grotto, where one can go at any time of the day or night to pray or meditate under her protective gaze.

In research for this post, I came across what must be considered among the most definitive publications on the history of Notre Dame's Grotto and many of the other religious symbols and landmarks at the University. It is called "A Cave of Candles: The Story Behind the Notre Dame Grotto." The author of this marvelous work is
Dorothy V. Corson, and all credit for collection and publication of the excerpts below must go to her. I highly recommend the entire story to all those interested in Notre Dame history beyond the football field.

Everyone loves the Dome. But it seems that many fail to see that perched on top of the famous Dome is an impressive statue of Mary. Long before Mary set foot there, it had been the dream of Father Edward Sorin to make it so.
As early as 1844, Sorin had envisioned his Lady on the Dome when he wrote:

When this school, Our Lady's school, grows a bit more, I shall raise her aloft so that, without asking, all men shall know why we have succeeded here. To that lovely Lady, raised high on a dome, a Golden Dome, men may look and find the answer.

After the Main Building of the University burned to the ground some thirty five years later, in 1879, Father Sorin renewed his vision:
The fire was my fault, he concluded. I came here as a young man and founded a university which I named after the Mother of God. Now she had to burn it to the ground to show me I dreamed too small a dream. Tomorrow we will build it bigger and, when it is built, we will put a gold dome on top with a golden statue of the Mother of God so that everyone who comes this way will know to whom we owe whatever great future this place has.
Not long after the 1879 fire, the plan for a statue of Mary to top the new Dome had taken shape:
We have received a description of the proposed statue of our Lady which is to adorn the new University, and which the young lady graduates of St. Mary's Academy generously proposed themselves to contribute as their crowning gift to Notre Dame. The model of the statue is that adopted by our late Holy Father, Pope Pius IX, in 1854, on the occasion of the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (erected by Pius IX in front of the Propaganda College in Piazza di Spagna in Rome). The material will be of highly polished bronze, sixteen feet in height, the crescent with the serpent beneath, and a starry crown above. Nine of the stars will be seen over and on either side of the head. By day the statue itself and its circle of stars will glitter in the sunlight, an object of beauty for miles around; and by night the nine stars will be lit with the electric light, and thus be a beacon of beauty from a still further distance. As the head will be 186 feet above the earth [sources vary on this; 197 feet seems to be the correct figure], it is evident that the jets of light will be seen by night all over the neighboring city and for a great distance on the various railroads entering here.

The young ladies of St. Mary's have therefore undertaken a beautiful task, a labor of love, in thus placing our Lady's statue in mid-air, as Michael Angelo placed the faultless Grecian temple above St. Peter's, a thing of beauty to rest and shine there, a joy forever. May their labor of love be rewarded, here, with the success of the object which they have in view, and afterwards with the sweet memory of the noble deed which they have accomplished, and may our Blessed Lady look upon them with her brightest smiles when, as the shades of night come on, her beautiful statue lights up the landscape of Notre Dame and St. Mary's!

The dream was realized when the statue of Mary was carefully lifted into place in 1883. I think it is important to note here the close ties between Notre Dame and St. Mary's Academy (now St. Mary's College). The profound nature of the gift from St. Mary's to Notre Dame, and the gratitude and love with which it was received is but a symbol of the close historical ties between the two institutions, which is further detailed in Dorothy Corson's manuscript. Periodically an article will appear in the Observer, written by an undergraduate student without any perspective, insulting Saint Mary's and its students, accusing them, essentially, of being parasites living off of Notre Dame. The crux of the article is typically that St. Mary's students shouldn't be permitted to buy tickets to Notre Dame football games. A reading of the full history of the two schools makes clear how ignorant (and selfish) these young authors can be.

A center of devotion at Notre Dame for over a century is the Grotto, a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes, France. The dedication of the Grotto at Notre Dame was an occasion of great ceremony:
On August 5th, 1896, the Feast of Our Lady of Snows, a beautiful statue representing the Blessed Virgin as she appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes was set in place in the new Grotto here at Notre Dame. The ceremony of the occasion, though short, partook of a simple grandeur that is not usually seen outside of Catholic countries. In the cool hours of the morning the Religious of the Holy Cross -- priests, brothers and nuns -- to the number of five hundred or more assembled in the spacious College Chapel to assist at Solemn Mass. All who were present approached the Holy Table and, when the services were over, formed in procession leading across the University lawn and through the picturesque grove in which Our Lady's shrine is situated. The brothers were in front carrying the statue and telling their beads, while the acolytes and priests followed with candles and waving banners. The sisters, chaunting the Litany of Loretto and the Magnificat, walked behind the ministers of the Mass. Those who have never witnessed a procession of this kind cannot know the beauty and the glory of it. Hard indeed would be the heart which would not thrill at the sight. To be sure, we do not refer to the mere specular aspect of a number of men and women marching in picturesque habits through a wooded glen, -- though that in itself is something uncommonly striking; we have in mind, rather, the faith of which is hardly any left in our day. No man could gaze on such a scene without feeling in his inmost consciousness -- whatever his outward expression might be -- that in the Catholic Church faith at least is not dead. And when on this occasion, the statue was finally in place and the religious knelt down before Our Lady's image offering prayers of thanksgiving and supplication, it was clear beyond doubt that here at Notre Dame there exists a faith in the Blessed Virgin's power, before God which is as strong and living as that which existed in the very "Ages of Faith" themselves. It is gratifying to be able to say this much, for it means that blessings are in store for the home of the new Grotto as well as the country round about from which the pilgrimages come.
A procession of 500 priests, brothers, and nuns would indeed have been an impressive sight on Notre Dame's modest campus in 1896. Since it's dedication, the Grotto has played an important role in the lives of Notre Dame residents and visitors alike. Dorothy Corson captures it so well that I won't try to paraphrase it:

An article in the Observer printed on February 13, 1986, five months after [a fire at the Grotto], brought renewed attention to this lovely campus shrine when the threat of loss was focused upon it.

In a portion of that impressive article, Kathy Martin the feature staff writer, speaks of the student experience:

Scarcely a student passes through the challenges, dilemmas, and triumphs of four college years here without taking refuge at one time or another in the peaceful silence of a moment of reflection before hundreds of glowing candles which are special prayers to the Virgin Mary. It is part of the Notre Dame experience and tradition. [...]

Kathy Martin also quotes former Notre Dame President, Father Theodore Hesburgh, who usually visits the Grotto every day when he is on campus:

"I really believe that Our Lady watches over this place. I feel I ought to stop in and say thanks, and also pray that she keeps watching over it." he said. "I usually get down there in the wee hours of the morning when I leave the office," he continued. "There is almost always someone down there, rain, sleet, or snow . . . . Every university has a place where students hang out for their social life, libraries where they study, and playing fields where they play sports, but how many have a praying place?"

The Grotto has earned Father Hesburgh's own personal accolade: "I've been to shrines dedicated to Our Lady all over the world. Mary may visit them, but she lives here at Notre Dame." [...]

This sanctuary among the trees is filled with the memories of a host of fellow travelers journeying through life. John Bruening's comment emphasizes this impression.

On a cold winter night, it's one of the few places you can go to be by yourself, yet never feel alone.

It has been said that the sweetest words in the English language are mother, heaven, and home -- Mary represents them all. The inspiration of her faith burns ever brightly in the candles at her Grotto, so that all people in need might come directly to her, like a child to its mother.

Father John E. Fitzgerald penned these words about that special feeling that radiates from the Grotto and touches the heart:

It's quiet and shady there. Just what there is about the place can't be described because it's different for everyone. Nobody knows how many candles have been burned or prayers answered there. From the great Golden Dome of her University Our Lady reigns as our Queen. Yet at the Grotto she seems to have stepped down a little closer to us that she might emphasize the other side of her personal relationship with us -- that of Our Mother.

The thoughts expressed above echo my own feelings about the Grotto. Haven't we all gone there in a moment of personal darkness and found comfort? Notre Dame, Our Mother.

Happy Mother's Day, from OC Domer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Good Luck Darius

Notre Dame running back Darius Walker surprised most of us when he announced earlier this year that he would be skipping his senior year of college football to enter the NFL Draft. This past weekend it was Darius and his family who were surprised when the draft ended after seven rounds and DW was still waiting for a call that never came. It was a tough way for a fine young man to end a notable college football career.

Coming out of high school, Darius was one of Ty Willingham's most heralded recruits. He was a top player coming out of the deep South, a region that Notre Dame had not been recruiting well, and his high school credentials included breaking touchdown records that had been set by the great Herschel Walker. Darius lived up to the hype very early, playing in eleven games as a freshman and rushing for nearly 800 yards.

For the next two seasons (2005 and 2006) DW was the feature back in Coach Weis' prolific offense, working his way into the Notre Dame record books in many statistical categories. From a Notre Dame press release:

Walker leaves Notre Dame as the fourth-leading rusher in school history with 3,249 yards. His 693 all-time carries ranks third on the school's career list and his 90.3 yards per game career average also ranks third in Notre Dame lore. This past season, Walker became just the fourth Fighting Irish player to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in consecutive seasons joining Vagas Ferguson, Allen Pinkett and Autry Denson. He is the school's record holder in career receptions by a running back with 109.
Where would Darius have ended up on those career records lists had he stayed at Notre Dame for another year? I think it is a mistake to assume that Walker would automatically have added another 1,000 yard season to his resume' and appreciably enhanced his historical position.

Travis Thomas has moved from linebacker, where he played last year due to team need, back to running back. Thomas (a starting linebacker) carried the ball just 18 times last year, but he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and had a longest run of 43 yards. Darius, on 255 rushing attempts, averaged 5.0 yards per carry and had a longest run of just 39 yards. These numbers highlight one of Walker's biggest shortcomings as an elite running back - explosiveness. Or, more accurately, the almost total lack of explosiveness.

Darius Walker is a very smart running back, who quickly learned a sophisticated offense. He mastered the running, pass-receiving, and pass blocking aspects of Coach Weis' pro-style scheme. He has great vision as a back, good hands, good feet, and toughness. But he is not very big, he is not a punishing runner, and he does not have breakaway speed. He can find a crease or slip a tackler to turn a 2-yard loss into a 3-yard gain, which he was called upon to do far too often behind a disappointing offensive line. Unfortunately, he could not turn the corner and take it to the house. He could not slip a tackler on the screen pass and outrun the rest of the defense to the end zone. Although a great possession back, he was never a quick-strike, big play threat. As a fan, it was frustrating to see Darius catch the ball on the swing pass with an open sideline in front of him and know that he was only going to gain twelve yards before the pursuit caught up to him.

Travis Thomas brings with him more of a sledge-hammer style at running back, as well as more big-play ability. In addition to Thomas, James Aldridge, Junior Jabbie, and incoming freshmen Armando Allen and Robert Hughes are all expected to compete for carries next season. I think Darius realized that he was not going to be the feature back in 2007, but rather one of several backs sharing the load. The result would likely have been a much more modest statistical year for him, and he is probably right that his NFL draft prospects would not have improved much, if at all. How high will you be drafted if you're not even the dominant player at your position on your college team?

Darius was surprised and disappointed by the weekend's results, and I was surprised and disappointed for him. Although I never figured him for a top pick, I did figure his production in college made him a very viable middle-rounder. But all is not lost. The Chicago Bears Houston Texans have signed Walker to a free agent contract, and I think he has a realistic opportunity to have a productive NFL career, for the same reason that many Notre Dame players have had good careers despite being picked late in the draft or going undrafted altogether. He is a fundamentally sound player from a top-flight college program, he played in a pro-style offense and is smart enough to quickly pick up NFL schemes, he is a hard worker and a good character guy. He will outlast flashier guys with more "talent" because of these important attributes.

So I wish Darius Walker well. Good luck in the NFL. And thank you. Thanks for picking Notre Dame at a time when other premiere high school players weren't giving us the time of day. Thanks for working hard and playing hard. Thanks for going to class and representing the University with class on and off the field. And thanks for your mom and dad.

Go Bears! Texans!

[05/04/2007 UPDATE: Apparently earlier reports that Darius had already signed a contract with the Bears were premature, and Darius is still without an NFL home. I'll update again when we learn more.]

[05/09/2007 UPDATE: The South Bend Tribune has reported that Darius has signed a contract with the Houston Texans.]