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Notre Dame Football

Captain Notes with Khalid Kareem | Staying Focused, Grass vs. Turf, & Pressures at ND

September 15, 2023

No. 9 Notre Dame returns home to host Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon after making a statement on the road last weekend.

Sure, NC State wasn’t a top 25 win, but the Irish faced plenty of adversity, including a weather delay and passed each challenge with flying colors. 

The challenge this week will be not to overlook Central Michigan as Ohio State comes to town next weekend. 

Former Notre Dame captain Khalid Kareem knows a thing or two about playing big games at Notre Dame, but also getting to the big game with a win. 

“I think the best way not to overlook an opponent is to treat them as a nameless, faceless opponent,” Kareem stated. “That’s the mentality that we took on in 2017-2019. It didn’t matter who or where we played. We prepared the same way every single week and the results showed. The most important game of the season is the one that week.

“If you overlook an opponent, take them lightly that’s when you get beat. You let certain things slide because it’s a ‘lesser opponent’ and they will capitalize on those mistakes the same way any other ‘big name’ opponent would.” 

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman has brought spirited competition to the walls of The Gug and the practice fields and that’s something Kareem cherished under former defensive coordinator Clark Lea. 

“One thing I loved that we always said was ‘put the damn ball down and let’s go,’” said Kareem. “It’s something Coach Lea would say and we knew exactly what it meant. Whoever lined up in front of us was gonna get our best no matter if it was the number one ranked team in the country or a JV team, you were gonna get our best.” 

If Notre Dame avoids overlooking the Chippewas, the Fighting Irish would bring a 4-0 record into Sunday morning and that also means the pressure will start to build each week. It’s why high school players choose to come to Notre Dame, but at the same time, nothing can prepare for them life in the national eye. 

For Kareem, there were two points where he felt pressure while at Notre Dame and they couldn’t have been more different. 

“I think one of the few times where we felt pressure at Notre Dame was during the 4-8 season,” explained Kareem. “Just the pressure from everyone. Alumni, classmates, professors, family members, etc. to win. We had a standard to uphold and we didn’t achieve it.”

In 2018, Kareem also started to feel the pressure as Notre Dame achieved a perfect 12-0 regular season, which included traveling across the country multiple times over the final month of the year. 

“The other time I would say is during the 12-0 season,” stated Kareem. “We knew the potential that we had. We knew what was at stake if we continued our undefeated streak. But I think what helped us out the most was keeping everything in-house. Never letting anyone on the outside affect what was going on within our family.

“Keep everything in perspective, don’t try to look too far forward because you’ll miss what’s right in front of you. We had to be firmly grounded in each moment to achieve what we did.” 

On Monday night, the football world had all eyes on MetLife Stadium as Aaron Rodgers made his debut for the New York Jets. It was short-lived as the future Hall of Famer tore his Achilles on the first drive. 

The injury has furthered the debate of grass vs. turf all week. Kareem has played his home games at Notre Dame on turf and then the Bengals and Colts also had artificial surfaces. 2023 will be the first season since high school that Kareem will play home games on grass, but the Michigan native would actually prefer turf. 

“Frankly, I love turf,” said Kareem. “It’s probably not the preferred choice by many but I like it for multiple reasons. I like it because it’s consistent, I know how my cleats are going to respond to me planting and turning in certain directions. I don’t have to go out there pregame and test the surface how I normally would with natural grass. If it’s wet can cause a lot of issues in my opinion.

“I think the biggest reason for me preferring turf is I’m allergic to grass, so playing on turf allows me to breathe better, not be congested, and not break out in hives. So yeah for personal reasons, I’ll gladly take turf over grass.” 

You can catch Kareem and the Chicago Bears take on Tampa Bay on Sunday at 1PM ET. 

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