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Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM PRESEASON 2022 37 GETTING HUMBLED On the surface, Kollie's first year looks like a success. He was one of two freshmen defensive players to avoid a redshirt. He appeared in 10 games, notching 14 tackles. But nearly all that action came on special teams. He played 58 defensive snaps over five games, all of them in mop-up duty. There was a welcome to college mo- ment in fall camp, a bout with CO- VID-19 that derailed some momentum and an academic adjustment. His pri- mary recruiter, then-Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea, left to become Vanderbilt's head coach days before he signed his letter of intent. Hurdles were everywhere. Some tripped him up. Kollie admits he lost belief at times, even though he began his career under- standing he'd have a steeper learning curve. He came from David Crockett High School in Jonesborough, Tenn., a town of about 6,000 in the Appala- chian Mountains. He played seven po- sitions during his high school career. His instructions in Crockett's defense were "see ball, get ball" with his physi- cal gifts and advanced instincts. Notre Dame's defense is, of course, a bit more complicated. The college game moves faster. The blockers are bigger and stronger. Kollie learned it swiftly and rudely in one of his first practices last August when a lineman pancaked him. That block was a tone-setter for the bumpy freshman year where Kollie's trust in his instincts sometimes waned. Watching from the bench was an ad- justment itself. "Confidence usually is not a big deal to him," said Kevin Ramsey, Crockett's for- mer wide receivers coach and a mentor to Kollie. "But when you get humbled a bit more, the first time he stood on a side- line, it will eat away at you a little bit." Kollie pushed through it and was part of the game plan for Notre Dame's home opener against Toledo, but a positive COVID-19 test knocked him out for that weekend and the next one. He watched on TV, alone by mandate. Ramsey couldn't attend as planned. Instead, they watched together via FaceTime, talking through plays and the frustra- tion of exclusion. They stayed on the phone through the night slate of games. "I knew that three-hour period was going to be really tough for him to not be out there," Ramsey said. Kollie credits Ramsey and others back in Jonesborough for propping him up when he needed a boost. Notre Dame's staff — particularly former defensive analyst Nick Lezynski — and the other linebackers were positive presences, too. Kollie roomed with now-senior Marist Liufau during the 2021 training camp and models his game after Liufau's. The more support he felt from home, though, the better. Kollie couldn't go home, so Ramsey tried to bring home to him. Ramsey texted Kollie every morning last fall, with the messages' contents ranging from Bible verses to inspira- tional quotes to a theme for the week. He would drive through the night from Jonesborough to South Bend for home games after Crockett finished playing on Friday nights. It didn't matter if Kol- lie was getting just a few snaps on spe- cial teams. He wanted to be there when Kollie walked out of the locker room Saturday evening. "Without the texts I get from the people back home, I don't know, it'd be tough for me," Kollie said. 'RISE TO THE OCCASION' A weeklong visit from Ramsey around Christmas combined with some good days during Fiesta Bowl prep helped Kollie reaffirm that Notre Dame was the right place. He came home during win- ter break and laid out an ambitious plan. "I'm committing myself to being the best linebacker I can be to Notre Dame," Ramsey said, recalling Kollie's message. "I'm committing myself to academics, committing myself to football and I'm going to be on that field next year in meaningful snaps." Kollie is not only tracking toward the goal he set for himself but learning to take speed bumps in stride. Lezynski departed for Vanderbilt in January, leav- ing him without his most influential figure in South Bend. Defensive grad- uate assistant and former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, though, has filled that gap. The academic adjustment isn't so steep anymore either. Kollie earned all A's and B's last spring, Ramsey said. Winter workouts with strength coach Matt Balis helped him transform his body and drop below 8 percent body fat. (Ditching a Raising Cane's chicken fingers habit helped there, too.) It turns out, comfort off the field of- ten fosters success on it. "You talk about natural instincts, you could put PK out there and not even know what the defense is and say, 'Just react,'" Laurinaitis said. "You can tell guys who can see it off the ball." Kollie has mainly worked as the No. 2 Will linebacker. Injuries left Notre Dame without a viable option there last year, requiring starter JD Bertrand to play 753 snaps and postponed significant wrist surgery until the offseason. Kollie ap- pears poised to turn that job into a rota- tion role and ensure the Irish don't expe- rience déjà vu. His play in the Blue-Gold Game and flashes during the first fall camp practice were reminders of those instincts, his speed and his range. He looked like his old self. Felt like it, too. "He has grown tremendously from the spring to now," Laurinaitis said. Maybe it's due to the comfort of knowing the hardest adjustments are in the past. Maybe it's the satisfaction of grinding through those. Maybe it's just coming back to a place that doesn't feel so foreign anymore. It's probably all three mixed with an inherent drive to meet the moment. Also known as refusing to lose. "You rise to the occasion, whatever it is," Ramsey often tells Kollie. Kollie's task isn't done yet. Claiming the No. 2 job at Will linebacker comes with the expectation of carrying that momentum over to 12 Saturdays and grasping all the different looks oppo- nents throw at Notre Dame's defense. It sounds much less daunting, though, to anyone who has fought through fresh- man growing pains and emerged with new levels of confidence. "There's no doubt in my mind," Ramsey said, "he's laser focused on the task at hand." And a little less reliant on that wrist- band. ✦ "He has grown tremendously from the spring to now." GRADUATE ASSISTANT JAMES LAURINAITIS ON KOLLIE

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