Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

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

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Page 4 of 55 SEPT. 10, 2022 5 T here was a period of time during Notre Dame football's fall camp when "the pit" — the area of the practice field reserved for the Fighting Irish's injured players — looked more like a wounded soldier infirmary than a place where student-athletes rehabbed various aches and ailments. That's not necessarily anything you want to see in such a setting. The mainstays were accounted for. Freshman running back Jadarian Price with his big boot over a healing Achilles tendon he tore in June. Sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans with the same pro- tective device over the foot he fractured a month later. Junior Aidan Keanaaina taking precautions coming back from a torn ACL. None of those guys are play- ing any time soon. They were accompanied by several players who had opposite expectations. Sophomore wide receivers Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie entered the pit with a hamstring strain and knee sprain, respectively. Graduate student wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. didn't get up to speed in the process of rehabbing his fractured foot until the middle of camp. Graduate student offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson was a lengthy resident of the pit with a foot sprain suffered in late August. Several of his offensive line cohorts — key backups like junior tack- les Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody included — wore street clothes during multiple practices because of concus- sion concerns. Hang tight. Not done yet. Senior cornerback Cam Hart was completely absent for one day of camp, a foreboding sign for his peers if this was actually an infirmary. You never want to have to ask where the missing comrade is. Senior linebacker Marist Liufau was held out of competitive reps altogether for a while. Sophomore running back Logan Diggs wore a red non-contact jersey for the first two weeks of camp. These are important contributors whose situations seemed rather dicey as time ticked down toward the season opener at No. 2 Ohio State Sept. 3, an opponent for which all systems needed to be running smoothly. And healthily. Like magic, they were. Four days before the game, the only player other than the ones taking care of long-term injuries who was question- able to play was Patterson. The wide receivers were ready. Diggs was cleared. Hart was fine. Liufau didn't have any limitations. The concussed offensive linemen were back in the fold. All things considered, No. 5-ranked Notre Dame was a healthy bunch. Just the way head coach Marcus Free- man intended. "I told them you have to trust me," Freeman said. "We're going to beat them up the first week of practice. It's the only way I know. It's what I believed it would take to really get this team ready to play football." Notre Dame might have bordered the proverbial line it simply was not sup- posed to cross; not if it wanted to bring a sturdy corps of troops to Columbus, Ohio. But Freeman does not think the Irish came close to going over the edge. His buzzword is "intentional." Everything done on the practice field serves a purpose. Fall camp wasn't ever going to be easy with Freeman in charge. Notre Dame's camp might have been one of the toughest to endure in the country. Starting offensive linemen Blake Fisher and Zeke Correll couldn't com- plete the very first day of practice Aug. 5. They tapped out with heat exhaustion. That might not have been intentional, but it still served a purpose. It served as a lesson, too. Freeman called them out in a press conference later that day. "I reminded them after practice it's your job to be available," Freeman said. "Do what you have to do from now un- til tomorrow when we're back on the field. It's up to you, and it's up to each individual." That was the last day anybody took their pads off because they were too hot. Thank the cooling South Bend air for that. But thank Freeman's stern warning most of all. His start-out-hot then pump-the- brakes tactic worked wonderfully. "Once we got to that point where I said, 'OK, we're ready to go. This team is ready physically to play at a game level,' now we have to be smart in terms of getting these guys who are game ready to get back for the game," Freeman said. Consider Notre Dame's athletic train- ing staff a bunch of medics running around the battlefield. Freeman gave them credit for the healthy status of the team exiting camp. He gave the play- ers themselves credit for the offseason training that allowed them to get to that point, even if there were short-term ca- sualties along the way. Those weren't unexpected. To some, football is a moderated version of war anyway. "We had some injuries," Freeman said. "That's what fall camp is about. That's what training camp is about. I wouldn't change it." ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at Head coach Marcus Freeman held his first fall camp in August, and he put his players through the wringer in preparation for the 2022 season. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Intense Fall Camp Will Pay Off For Notre Dame

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