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Notre Dame Football

Competition Leading to More Violence from Notre Dame

August 12, 2023

A Clemson player reached out to me less than 24 hours after the Tigers whipped Alabama in the National Championship game in 2019. 

It was to highlight Notre Dame’s physicality as the Tigers had beaten the Irish 30-3 to get the title game. 

“I thought Notre Dame’s defensive line and linebackers were a lot more physical,” he stated. “Notre Dame was the most physical team I can remember.” 

There have been more than a few games Notre Dame has brought the physicality since that 2018 season, but the Irish have also lacked the physical nature of the team that made the College Football Playoff that year. 

Physicality and violence seem to be back at Notre Dame and perhaps more than ever as Marcus Freeman has made it a point of emphasis following his first year as head coach. 

Yet, Freeman hopes he’s not the one driving it, but rather Notre Dame is recruiting the right players. 

”I hope it’s the players that we have in this program,” said Freeman. “You have to be physical to have success in this game. You’re talking about men going 20 miles an hour, full speed with pads on. You’ve got to be courageous to play this game. What you try to do is see who’s going to run into the fire and who’s kind of tiptoeing in there. I think it’s a way to truly see what our guys have inside at times,”

One of the most significant changes Freeman has made is the physical practices. That means more scrimmaging and situational contact periods. 

Notre Dame will dial it back a bit as the Irish will dive into preparations for Navy, but expect Freeman to continue to make sure his team maintains its edge leading into week zero. 

“We have to be smart now,” explained Freeman. “We can’t have injuries for no reason. That’s that fine line. How do you push them with the physicality that we need to have but also understand that we have to be at our full potential as we get ready to play in Dublin, Ireland.” 

The Irish front seven has been plenty physical over the year and that’s led to the staff challenging the secondary to be more violent. 

“It’s non-negotiable that when the ball is in the alley or in the box we’re hitting and we’re hitting with violence,” safeties coach Chris O’Leary stated. “The best part about that is those guys have stepped it up. Tone (Antonio Carter II) already strikes. T-Harp (Thomas Harper) already plays the game fast and violent.

“But now you bring a freshman in Adon Shuler and he’s one of the best (hitters) we’ve got. If you’re an older guy and you see a freshman hitting with violence out there, you’ve got no choice.” 

Notre Dame’s emphasis on violence has also led to much more chirping between the offense and defense. Defensive lineman Jason Onye has shown he’s not afraid to make his voice heard to the offensive line, while you can hear offensive lineman Blake Fisher chirping 100 yards away. 

From the outside, Freeman’s strong emphasis on competition has led to more trash talking, but also a more confident team. 

”We definitely encourage competitive spirit,” Freeman explained. “We want to have energetic practices. We want our guys to provide energy. When it becomes a distraction that’s when we have to make sure we cut it out. There have been times in camp like any camp you go to that it’s crossed a line and we have to make sure we address it.” 

And yes, Notre Dame has crossed the line at times, including on Friday as Freeman let his team know it wasn’t acceptable following practice. In fact, Freeman delivered his message and then immediately left the practice fields almost five minutes before anyone else to make his statement. 

“I don’t want to pull back that competitive spirit that they have, but I want to make sure we understand there is a certain level we can get it to and we can’t cross that line,” said Freeman. “It’s a fine line because we’re going to push them to that edge.

“We’re going to push them to right there where we want you to play with that energy that truly I believe takes to have success, but what you can’t do is hurt your team. We have to make sure we always correct it when we get to that point.” 

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