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Notre Dame Football

Howard Cross III and Notre Dame Confident Heading to Chapel Hill

September 21, 2022

There seems to be a sense of calmness and even maybe a little relief around the Notre Dame football program this week. 

And no, the Fighting Irish aren't satisfied sitting at 1-2 with a big trip to North Carolina on deck, but it's the first week where Marcus Freeman's team can take a deep breath. 

Game one was hyped for nine months, then the Irish faced Marshall in game two after preparing the entire offseason for the Buckeyes. Game three was pressure to get a win and get Freeman over the hump in the win column. 

This week, Notre Dame defensive lineman Howard Cross III knows it's a big game and the Irish have momentum coming off the win against Cal. 

"Coming off of last week, we were —I wouldn't say angry. We were determined. We wanted to win because, more than anything else, we knew we could win. We knew that we were a good team. We knew that we needed to live up to our potential. 

"(Saturday) was a glimpse of that. We're still working. Obviously, we can get way better than that. It felt good. Obviously, all the niceties and everything's out of the way. Now we can just play football and focus on the next game."

Notre Dame's confidence never faded despite the 0-2 start and, at times, a lack of focus. Cross believes that confidence should be even higher after the first win of the year. 

"We're in the swing of it now," explained Cross. "So no more, 'Oh, I wonder how the first game's going to go. Oh, am I going to be able to do?'

"I'm pretty sure after the last game, people that should be confident and will be confident going into this game. That's what the season is all about. Just gaining confidence and being better every single game you play."

When it comes to confidence, Cross' should be at an all-time high as the senior is playing the best football of his career. 

How good has the 6-foot, 276-pounder been? 

Cross leads the team in tackles with 21 and that's quite the feat for an interior defensive lineman. In fact, it's almost unheard of in today's game. 

And how has Cross been so productive? Motor and technique, but also listening to advice from his father, who happens to be a Super Bowl champion.  

"I call my dad after every game," stated Cross. "The first thing he says is, 'Make sure you want to run the ball. Run to the ball, run to the ball, run to the ball.' That doesn't mean just running to the ball. It means if you get blocked, get off the block, fight to get to the ball. If you're double-teamed, they should be dragging you to get to the ball. 

"That should be my mindset. That with making sure you have the technique and being in the right gap, it just puts me in the right place at the right time."

The New Jersey native recorded 11 tackles against Marshall and he'll be the first to admit he didn't know until he got home.

Cross admits he was more focused on why Notre Dame was 0-2, which speaks to his character and why so many consider him a great teammate. 

"I still remember sitting in my room after Marshall and being like, 'Dang, we have to fix this,'" Cross recalled. "Then just seeing my phone and it said 11 tackles. Like wait, what? Then last week was seven tackles. Wait, what? It doesn't seem like it. 

"I'm just trying to do my job, trying to help everybody out and do what I'm supposed to do and I get production."

Notre Dame has certainly received production from Cross and it might be a huge shock as the Irish were one of the few schools to look past Cross' lack of height during the recruiting process. 

"I'm still thinking that people don't think I'm as strong as I am," said Cross. "After every game, the O-line comes over and is like, 'Oh man, you're really good for your size.' Really? Thank you. That's not mean at all. Any article is like, 'Oh yeah, Cross was great this game despite his size.' That's awesome. You don't need to say that."

Is it a chip on his shoulder that people still discount him for his height? Yes, but perhaps it's not as big as it once was, as Cross has confidence where his game has developed since he arrived at Notre Dame. 

"It was a chip on my shoulder when I first came to college because a lot of schools would literally come to me and say, 'You are an outstanding athlete. You're just not 6-3, and we're not going to offer you.' I'm like, 'OK.' 

"People just seemingly realized that the one person that's also 6-1, 275 in the league is Aaron Donald. No one likes to mention that. It's fine. I'm very confident in my abilities. I'm happy with what I'm doing. Right now, I'm not focused on the amount of tackles I have. I'm just focused on the next game."

Cross is fine if offensive linemen doubt him as they quickly find out it's going to be a long day. 

In fact, Cross believes the shock factor is part of his charm. 

"I kind of want to keep my secret intact," Cross stated. "It's kind of, I guess, charming in a way when people are looking at my size, 'Oh, this is going to be easy.' Then they come off the ball and they're five yards behind the quarterback, and they're like, 'What just happened?'" 

Notre Dame will have a tough task this weekend as the Tar Heels offense averages over 50 points per game, but the Irish will be ready and confident when they arrive in Chapel Hill. 

PFF credited Notre Dame's defense with 26 pressures and Cross feels that's the bar for the defensive line. 

"That is the standard," said Cross. "The standard should be no mistakes and a lot of sacks. We want to eliminate as many missed assignments or missed tackles, or missed technique in any way possible. No one's perfect, but if we can be next to perfect or really, really close to it, then we can be like we were on Saturday. Which we know we can be even better."  

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