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Notre Dame Football

Kelly talks Notre Dame center situation, pride in Irish

December 31, 2020

Earlier this week, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he had hoped to finalize the Irish's plans at the center position perhaps by Monday afternoon.

In his final press conference before Friday's Rose Bowl College Football Playoffs semifinal against top-ranked Alabama, Kelly extended the Notre Dame evaluation between Zeke Correll and Josh Lugg, who started the Irish's last game against Clemson in the ACC Championship.

Correll had replaced the injured Jarrett Patterson before Correll himself suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out of the lineup earlier this month. Kelly said the evaluation process is still being discussed amongst the staff.

“I think both centers are prepared and ready to play,” Kelly said. “I think that will be a game-time decision. I think Coach (Jeff) Quinn and I and Coach (Tommy) Rees have talked at great length about both of them, and they're both extremely capable of playing at the position.

“I think it's going to be a game-time decision. And both could actually play for us.”

The Irish rushed for a season-low 44 yards in their ACC title game loss to the Tigers and have emphasized a need to get back to their ground-based offense Friday – for both Notre Dame's offensive benefit and to keep Alabama's offense off the field.


COVID-19 tests have become as much a part of the Notre Dame football program – and every program in this pandemic season – as playbooks, practices and walk-throughs.

Still, Kelly has consistently heaped praise upon this specific Irish iteration. It's a group Kelly touted as carrying the potential to be special a year ago, long before the coronavirus had wreaked havoc around the globe, and one that carried out that vision this fall on the gridiron.

“I couldn't be more proud of a football team,” Kelly said. “I'm sure (Alabama coach Nick) Saban feels the same way, and anybody that's been asked these same questions, how they feel about their football team. This is a unique team, a bond that you build with a team that's unlike any others when you go through the things that we've had to go through relative to COVID and testing and changing your lifestyle and habits.

“And I just love this team, and I love what they're about. And I can't wait to watch them play. They're going to perform at a high level. They'll need to because this is an outstanding football team. And, again, want to congratulate Alabama for, again, being here and being part of the playoffs.”

Kelly leaned into a program-wide change in mindset, brought upon as part of the program's natural evolution as Kelly's climbed the school's career-wins ladder and also from the program rebuild after the disastrous 2016 season.

“We know the challenges in front of us, but we welcome those challenges,” Kelly said. “That's why we go to work each and every day to put ourselves in this position. And we're going to keep knocking at the door. We don't listen to the narratives about what Notre Dame can and can't do.

“We're just excited that we're going to keep banging at this door and we're going to get through. We're going to keep putting ourselves in this position. And we're excited about the opportunity that we've got for us (Friday).”


During the back-to-back Zoom press conferences Thursday morning, Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked about his top-ranked Crimson Tide being an almost-three-touchdown favorite against the Irish.

Saban, who famously labeled media praise as “rat poison” in a previous season, said the Tide staff tell players to ignore outside chatter.

“I always tell our players that they really shouldn't listen to what people say externally and really stay focused on what you have to do internally to be able to play your best football,” Saban said. “I think this program is built on players being accountable to do their job at a high level and to be accountable to each other.

“And really what other people think and say really doesn't have anything to do with the outcome of the game. So we want to stay focused on the things that we have to do to get the proper outcome for our team, but with great respect for the team that we have to play. And know that we're going to have to stay focused one play at a time and do a great job of executing to be able to have success anytime you play against a really good team.”


Saban elected last week to allow all of his Alabama players to return to their homes for Christmas.

The Tide have endured multiple COVID-19 tests since that time, and Saban said they've received full clearance.

“We haven't had any problems to this point,” Saban said. “I always knock on wood when I say that. So everybody that we expected to be on the trip will be on the trip.”

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