Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2012 Issue

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

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Team Player Always a cocky, confident player, senior running back Cierre Wood has an improved perspective on his role with the Irish By Wes Morgan From his bed in South Bend, Cierre Wood flipped on the television just in time to watch the Fighting Irish play a 9 a.m. Eastern time game against Navy in Ireland to open the season. Behind a pair of aviator sunglasses the following week, the senior running back mingled on the Notre Dame sideline before and during his team’s victory over Purdue. Because of a violation of team rules, Wood, who loves being the center of attention, could only spectate for the first two games of the year. “Not playing was terrible,” Wood said. “You practice all summer and put in so much work and so much time, and to not play those first two games is heartbreaking.” The punishment did little to deflate his ego, but there is something about Wood, who roared back with authority late in the win at then-No. 10 Michigan State Sept. 15, that has changed. After the “signature” road victory, head coach Brian Kelly posed a general question to several of his players, Wood included, looking for a specific response. “What did you think about the weekend?” Kelly inquired. “They all said, ‘We are happy we won, but here is what I’ve got to do better,’” Kelly recalled. “If we can continue with that kind of mentality, we’re going to be fine. When we start talking about, ‘That’s me, that’s how I roll; I’m that kind of player’… if it’s all about them, we have some issues. “Cierre is now at that point where he understands it’s about the team, and when he gets his opportunity he’s got to help the team.” Wood got that chance early in the fourth quarter in East Lansing, when Notre Dame took possession with a 14-3 lead and backed up on its own 4-yard line. Needing some breathing room — both on the scoreboard and from the goal line — Wood rushed for 45 of his team-high 56 yards on the drive, which ate up more than six minutes and produced a 29-yard field goal and a two-touchdown lead. “I felt I had something to prove,” said Wood, who led the team in 2011 with 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns. “Basically, I just wanted to get the win for my teammates. That’s what it really comes down to.” For a young man who in the past needed an extra seat on the bus for his own hubris, it seems as if he has put what’s in the group’s best interest ahead of personal pursuits. Wood, the first Irish tailback to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Darius Walker chewed up 1,267 in 2006, said he was ecstatic to see classmate Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson III hold down the fort while he served his suspension. “It’s always great when you see your teammates exceling,” he said. “As a team player, I want to be a part of it and have success along with the rest of my teammates. The way we come in and come out, there are basically fresh legs on the field at all times. “All three of us have a great amount of talent, so the coaches putting us around in different positions on the field is only going to make our team that much better.” Former Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray, who is hoping to be activated by the Miami Dolphins from the physically unable to perform list in a month or so, said that side of Wood has slowly come to the surface, beginning last season. Gray’s emergence in 2011 could have been a major threat to Wood’s mojo. And when Gray turned in a performance he’d like to forget in the season opener against South Florida, which included in a red-zone fumble returned for a Bulls touchdown, Wood wasn’t secretly pumping his fist. “He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team,” Gray said. “I know sometimes it’s hard to figure him out; it was hard for me to figure him out when he first got to Notre Dame. “Cierre is one of those guys that couldn’t be farther away from what people perceive him as. He is a team-first guy. In that first game [in 2011] when I had my struggles, he was the first guy to pick me up. “He didn’t have to do that. I was the older guy — the senior. He could have just not said anything. That showed a lot of maturity from him. He’s going to have a fantastic year, and the suspension is really going to make him play harder. “He’s going to show his coaches, the players and the fans that he’s a guy they can trust, and that he’ll be there when they need him.” Notre Dame also needs Wood, within the rules, of course, to still be the same confident athlete he has always been. That shouldn’t be an issue. “Unless three, four or five people are tackling me … I don’t think one person can tackle me,” he said. “There was a play I made in the Michigan State game when I stiff-armed a dude — it surprised myself. “In any game, you can’t be too sure of anything. You can’t take your foot off the gas pedal.”

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