Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Showing Grit in Offseason

March 7, 2017

Brian Kelly knew things had to chance after Notre Dame went 4-8 in 2016 but the question was could he make the changes necessary to take his program in the right direction.

Three months after the Irish lost to USC, Notre Dame has new coordinators on both sides of the ball, new coaches at linebacker, receiver, tight end, defensive line and a special teams coordinator.

However, while those changes might seem drastic, the biggest chance was in strength and conditioning as Kelly hired Matt Balis. Kelly conducted interviews with his players to see where 2016 went wrong and the consensus from the team was the strength and conditioning program needed a change.

“It was something that they needed and wanted,” Kelly said of his players request. “We're giving them exactly what they want. I think it's proving itself to be not only beneficial for us as a program, but for the players as well. They see themselves in a different light.”

When Balis arrived, Kelly wanted to him to develop traits and a foundation of the program. Balis accepted the challenge, and the results have been stellar eight weeks into the program.

This group really wants to be great. - Brian Kelly
“The charge that I gave Matt Balis was to create an environment that we could build the traits necessary for excellence,” stated Kelly. “Our mission for excellence is to graduate our players and to play for championships. I think he's done a great job. I think his staff has done a great job collectively of building those traits within a very positive environment, one that challenges our players in a positive way and gets the performance necessary of building those traits of excellence.

“The process over the last eight weeks has been outstanding in terms of what we're asking our players on a day-to-day basis to do. They have been great. They have come to work every day with a great attitude, and I think that's the first place that you look to start. What is the attitude of your team, of your group. I think that's the first trait that you look for, the difference between being good and great. This group really wants to be great.”

Balis’ program is much different than the former program under Paul Long, and that’s by design as Kelly had a plan in mind.

“I asked Matt to put together -- the way we put the staff together is that we wanted the combination of a high-intensity training with some velocity-based training, Olympic lifts,” Kelly said. “We wanted correctives immediately with some individual position-specific lifts. Then, obviously, some speed, agility, and quickness. So those five layers of training have already been implemented, and I think we've already seen that through just the workouts, preliminary workouts with our guys.

“I know they feel better. I know that they feel as though their confidence in their workouts, whether it be numbers that they actually see, how their body looks, I know that they feel a lot more confident in how they're moving. We'll see how that translates on the field. We've got to be able to take it out of the weight room and put it on the football field.”

Spring practice starts on Wednesday and Kelly wants to keep things simple. The head coach is more focused on the process of developing winnings traits versus watching for production over the next 15 practices.

“I'm not as interested in what the route looks like, what that technique looks like,” Kelly explained. “I'm more interested in attention to detail. I'm more interested in laser focus. I'm more interested in grit. I'm more interested in those traits that are necessary to win a championship.

“We'll develop those things in time, but going through the spring, I think the most important thing is to continue the process and continue to build those traits.”

Kelly continued.

“Getting caught up in who is the Rover, who is the Buck, who is the Drop, that will sort itself out,” Kelly stated. “If you get caught up in that in 15 practices and lose sight of who can pay attention to detail, right, who has winning habits that's going to show up for you in the fourth quarter, who's got that grit that you need to come up with to stop a drive, those are more important to me than getting a pecking order at the rover position.

“Now, that doesn't mean you can't -- you've got to put guys out there. But let's not trip ourselves up by worrying too much about that and forgetting about the process.”

What is the process?

“The last eight weeks we've been developing those traits necessary for excellence on a day-to-day basis,” said Kelly. “We'll continue to work on that through the spring. I'm talking more in terms of process, that's what I mean. I mean developing those traits. We’ve got a great eight weeks. I think Matt has taken that charge with the staff and really focused primarily on building those traits that I want with our football team. And now that we get a chance to work on them tomorrow, I'm excited to get our staff in there working in the same direction.”

The process of identifying talent and improving skill is clearly the primary objective this spring. Kelly wants to see his guys fight for playing time and reps over the 15 practices.

“First of all is skill development, making sure that there's a portion that we're working on their skill,” Kelly explained. “Putting them in competitive situations, putting fatigue, putting stress on them during competitive situations. To see those guys fight through those kinds of situations and handle themselves with great focus, with great attention to detail. Grit, grit. Grit is sustained effort over a long period of time. And having some adversity. So creating those situations in practice with an eye towards building those traits is what our practices will look like.”

We're very different than a lot of programs where we have our weight training and our running in succession. - Brian Kelly
The competition has already begun inside The Gug and will translate to the field and then back into The Gug after spring football is over. There is a plan in place, and Notre Dame is doing it differently than some of the other programs across the country and it's build around overcoming adversity.

“We're very different than a lot of programs where we have our weight training and our running in succession,” said Kelly. “In other words, most teams are weight training and then come back in the afternoon and do their running. We do our weight training and running right after the weight training. So we've already put our guys through that fatigue and stress that requires them to stay in the moment. Requires them to build a focus to get through some very tough times.

“We're going to continue that process on the football field. With competitive situations, where we can now go to our guys and say, listen, you're tired in this moment. You've been there before. What got you through it? So we can use similar talks we've had over the last eight weeks and now just transfer it into a football-related situation.”

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