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Notre Dame Football

Marcus' Message: Irish will make university, fans proud

January 1, 2022

The post-game locker room scene inside State Farm Stadium was nothing like what anyone for Notre Dame had envisioned.

Which was precisely why Saturday afternoon, on the heels of a stunning loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, Marcus Freeman emphasized it was a scene that Fighting Irish players who can return for the 2022 season should imprint upon themselves.

“His main points were just talking about how we felt about the disappointment of the game, not being able to send the seniors off as champions,” said sophomore tailback Chris Tyree, who had a 53-yard receiving touchdown but finished with just 18 rushing yards, of Freeman after the game. “And you know just taking everything we feel right now and using it as motivation for the next season.”

What Freeman told his players in a disappointed locker room after a 28-7 Notre Dame lead had been transformed into a 37-35 loss, the 35-year-old first-game head coach reiterated in a convicted, poised post-game press conference.

“For me, obviously, as the leader of this program, it's a pit in your stomach,” Freeman said. “As I told the group a minute ago, you want to bottle it up and you want to remember how this feels. The honeymoon stage is over. The whole, new head coach, it's a great story, but now it's about having a great product, and it's about having a great team.

“We have to make sure that it's about developing this team for next year. This year is over, so everything we do from now moving forward is going to be development and making sure we're prepared to have success."

The Irish perpetually play a national schedule that now features five games against Atlantic Coast Conference competition, as well as intersectional rivalries against Pac-12 foes Stanford and USC. The 2022 slate, which kicks off in less than 250 days, opens with a road trip to Big Ten Rose Bowl representative Ohio State.

And the Irish will do so with, in all likelihood, double-digit new starters between definite and potential losses from their starting lineup against the Cowboys, not to mention already departed stalwarts Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams at safety and running back, respectively.

Jack Coan exits from the quarterback position after starting all 13 games of his Notre Dame season, and center Jarrett Patterson has a decision regarding his future to either return or enter the NFL Draft. Cain Madden also departs from his right guard spot after, like Coan, starting all 13 games for his single season as a Golden Domer.

Anchor and team captain Kurt Hinish is gone from the defensive line, as is linebacker Drew White. Isaiah Foskey likely has the highest NFL Draft upside for the upcoming Draft, per sources, and faces a key decision about his future.

Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy, likewise, are key wideouts with decisions to make about their careers.

There are others, too, but Freeman insists his message to all who return and all who arrive will be unwavering.

“More than anything, there's a group I think that's one, disappointed,” Freeman said, “but two, motivated. Motivated to right what happened today and to start the progression for the future.

“As I told them 28 days ago (a day after Freeman was formally announced as head coach), this is about right now, this was about finishing this season off the right way. Well, it didn't happen, and it's OK. All we can do now is start focusing on what we'll do as we move forward to make sure that we're successful the next time we are on the field."

Notre Dame still could potentially add one or two signees to its 2022 class, and, pending those future decisions for the bevy of players with options to return or forgo a final season, Freeman & Co. also can peruse the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Freeman has a vision for his program’s roadmap into the future, and a commitment to the globally recognized brand.

"They deserve a winning product,” Freeman said of his message. “They deserve a team that every week goes out there and wins. It's our job to make sure that we prepare, and we do everything necessary to give this team, the fan base, the university and everybody else that deserves a really, really good product out on that field.

“We'll get back to work. That's the only thing we know how to do, and win or lose, we're going to get back to work and we're going to find ways to improve and make sure that we're even more prepared and have a better opportunity to have success next time we're on the field."

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