Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

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8 NOV. 4, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME As the associate director of sports nutrition and team dietician for Notre Dame football, Alexa Appelman puts in long personal days for the bet- terment of more than 100 others. Appelman's workday starts at about 6 a.m., well before breakfast is even served to the Irish foot- ball players, and it doesn't end until after 8 p.m., after dinner is served and devoured. Hired at Notre Dame in May 2022, after two- year stints at Ole Miss (director of sports nutri- tion) and South Carolina (performance dietician), she said she couldn't pass up the opportunity to work solely with the Notre Dame football pro- gram when the position opened. Appelman, 30, is a Marlboro, N.J., native who graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., before beginning her career in sports nutrition and performance. Planning menus and endlessly stocking all of the team refrigerators and "cupboards" in the players' lounge, field stations, meeting rooms, weight room, locker rooms, etc., with healthy grab-and-go nutritional options are all part of her daily routine. Making smoothies is a way of life. Blue & Gold Illustrated recently caught up with Appelman to discuss her daily responsibilities, her mission statement, the challenges of her job and what a day in the life looks like. BGI: How did you end up at Notre Dame? Appelman: "The job came up to work here just with Notre Dame football and it was one of those opportunities you just can't turn down. I just loved everything about Notre Dame, what they stood for as an institution and their sports performance department, just the progression and the vision that they have." BGI: How would you describe the mission state- ment of your job? Appelman: "Our mission is to empower our stu- dent-athletes to make great decisions based on their food choices. We want to give them the educa- tion that they need to make the best decisions for their health and performance on and off the field." BGI: It sounds like your responsibilities stretch well beyond on-field performance? Appelman: "We want to help educate them and give them the life skills that they need to be an amaz- ing human in this world and make really informed decisions when it comes to the things that they are eating and how they shop in the grocery store." BGI: What are some of your most important practice responsibilities? Appelman: "Try to avoid cramping as much as possible. If anyone feels any sort of energy depletion, we have snacks in our bag that we walk around with. Then you get ready for post- practice recovery. We'll prepare different options that are going to help rebuild those muscles and help speed up that recovery process." BGI: What would you consider the most impor- tant part of your job? Appelman: "We are all just trying to figure out what's the best way to enhance our guys' perfor- mance. How can we enhance the schedule? How can we provide the best food options? How can we set up the building for success so they have everything that they need? But you don't know how to do that if you don't have really good rela- tionships with the players." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … ALEXA APPELMAN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF SPORTS NUTRITION AND TEAM DIETICIAN FOR NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL The Running Game Needs To Be Better By Todd D. Burlage Of all the statistical slippage that Notre Dame suffered during its brutal schedule stretch from Sept. 23 to Oct. 14 — with four consecutive games against ranked and undefeated teams — the Irish run- ning game production was the most glaring. During its 4-0 start to this season, Notre Dame aver- aged 5.9 yards per carry and 204.5 rushing yards per game, placing it 26th in the country in rushing offense. During its difficult four-game stretch, Notre Dame's ground performance slipped to 3.9 yards per carry and 126.0 yards per game, the latter of which marked a 38 percent drop from the first four games. Junior tailback Audric Estimé became the Fighting Irish poster player in the MIA rushing game. He aver- aged 130.3 rushing yards and 8.3 yards per carry in the first four games, ranking near the top of the NCAA in both categories. In his subsequent four outings, Estimé's production dropped to 66.5 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. For whatever reason, Notre Dame got away from what it was doing as well as any team in the country. And that needs to change during the home stretch of this regular season. Head coach Marcus Freeman prides himself on being a run-the-ball, stop- the-run strategist. The last three games of this season will provide his team a chance to return to its early season form in the run game, build a foundation for later and make its head coach proud now. The Passing Game Is The Underlying Issue By Jack Soble It's true that the Irish haven't run the ball as well as they did in their first four games. Perhaps the biggest reason behind that, though, is Notre Dame's opponents stuffing the box with eight or nine defenders. When the Irish bring out 13 or 14 personnel, sometimes they're even running against a 10-man box. The not-so-easy fix is to pass more, run play-action more and try to take the top off the defense like Notre Dame knows Sam Hartman can. Freeman stressed the need to take more shots against an aggressive defense like Pittsburgh's, and that should be the case in the last three games of the season as well. Regarding play action, the Irish ran it three times against USC. One resulted in a 12-yard scramble for Hartman. One got sophomore tight end Holden Staes in wide-open space, but Hartman missed the read and threw it elsewhere. The third and final play-action attempt created senior wide receiver Chris Tyree's 46-yard touchdown reception. There is no excuse not to run play action more this season if you're Notre Dame. The other side of the problem is the Irish wide receivers, who have been inconsistent at best in the middle third of the schedule. Figuring out three to four who can produce consistently would do wonders for the offense this season and give Notre Dame much more confidence heading into 2024. Nothing would make Irish fans feel better than Hartman's career ending on a high note, which should translate into team success. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHAT DOES NOTRE DAME NEED TO IMPROVE MOST IN ITS LAST FOUR GAMES? AUDRIC ESTIMÉ SAM HARTMAN Appelman educates Irish football players on their food choices and helps them to make the best decisions for their health and performance on and off the field. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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