Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

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

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10 MAY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME In late March, Notre Dame men's freshman fencer Nick It- kin was part of the program's second consecutive national championship while also claim- ing an individual title in the men's foil. A few weeks later in Verona, Italy, Itkin won a gold medal in the men's foil at the FIE Ju- nior World Championships. He also helped his team capture a bronze medal during the event. BGI: What's the experience been like recently with your in- dividual and team success at the NCAA Championships and Junior Worlds? Itkin: "It's been a goal of mine for both of those tournaments that I wanted to reach. I didn't ex- pect it to happen, to be honest. The NCAAs I just started competing, so I didn't really expect it. "I've just fenced really well the past few weeks and the results have showed it." BGI: When you arrived at Notre Dame, was winning individual and team crowns part of your goals as a freshman? Itkin: "I think the team thought we could do it and we were pretty confident. Individ- ually, I wasn't as confident. I knew I could do it, but I had to be fencing really well in order to do it. "That day I felt really good and from the start I felt I could accomplish it." BGI: What are you hoping to accomplish at Notre Dame and overall the next three years? Itkin: "At Notre Dame, if we could repeat this a few more times as a team and I guess individually would always be the goal. Internationally, I want to start competing on the senior circuit. I want to be showing results there and not only the junior circuit. I think I've shown myself in the junior circuit, but in the senior circuit is where I have room to improve. "To make a Senior World team and the Olym- pics, I've always dreamed about that. I think I can do it if I really push myself to it." BGI: How did you get your start in fencing? Itkin: "My dad is a fencing coach, so I've been working with him since I was a little kid at 7 or 8 years old. It was for fun for a little bit, but then my dad realized I was behind, so I started taking fencing seriously when I was 10 years old. "I had my first good result when I was 16 I be- lieve. … From then on, I had a streak of a few good tournaments, and I think that's when I had my first thought about it and realized I could have success." BGI: When you were looking at continuing your student-athlete career on the college level, what made Notre Dame an attractive option for you? Itkin: "When I was college searching, I think fencing was probably the number one priority, to be honest. School was right after that. Fencing- wise I thought Notre Dame was the number one program from the amount of attention we get, the coaching is great, the amount of good fencers to practice with is phenomenal, and a lot of at- tention goes into fencing. I think out of the other options academically, Notre Dame is very strong as well, so it was the perfect fit." — Corey Bodden Five Questions With … MEN'S FRESHMAN FENCER NICK ITKIN Emphasis Seemed Diminished This Spring By Lou Somogyi Last season, first-year offensive coordinator Chip Long was adamant that Notre Dame's identity would center on a physical ground attack when he stated, "I can't put my head on my pillow at night if we're not going to be physical." Head coach Brian Kelly likewise stressed that to overcome the 4-8 meltdown in 2016, "We needed to tackle a little bit more. I thought we were a little soft in our practices … we built a lot of bad habits." Led by the premier left side in college football with Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, plus a productive, proven back in Josh Adams, the 269 rushing yards per game last year ranked seventh nationally. The Irish improved to 10-3 and No. 11 — the same result as in 2015 when a quality ground game (207.6 yards per game) was the centerpiece. Is it coincidence that three of Notre Dame's four highest finishes since 1997 came in regular seasons (2012, 2015 and 2017) when it ran the ball well because it was emphasized to take the burden off new quarterbacks? And as for this spring … "We've thrown the ball much more than we've run it because of those things that we wanted to grow in …" Kelly said April 14. "It's hard for me to say, 'Hey, we're so much better running the football without Nelson and McGlinchey.' "We've been focusing on other things, quite frankly." If the running game falters significantly, Notre Dame could regress again, as has been the case the past two decades. Pass Game Emphasis Meant To Aid Ground Attack By Bryan Driskell Notre Dame lost two All-American offensive linemen, a tight end who was the team's most underrated player, and a running back that rushed for 1,430 yards. Notre Dame then spent most of spring working on the pass game. Cause to be concerned? Absolutely not. The Irish line returns four players with starting experience and newcomer Liam Eichenberg has as much natural ability as any lineman on the roster. Notre Dame will have all of fall camp to get its run game where it wants it to be, but let's be honest: with Long calling the plays, Notre Dame is going to run the football. What hurt Notre Dame last season was that its pass game couldn't keep some of the better de- fenses from loading the box and out-numbering the talented offensive line. Long wisely focused the spring on building up that part of the offense. Spending extra time getting the new-look line working well together in protection was an absolute must. With its top two pass catchers gone from what was an already underachieving receiving corps, an emphasis had to be placed on spending as much time as possible finding playmakers for the offense. In addition, senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush needed as much work this spring as possible to improve his mechanics, en- hance his ability to work through progressions and become a better decision maker. He used the extra reps this spring to make significant progress. All the emphasis on the pass game this spring should benefit the ground attack in the fall. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WILL NOTRE DAME RUN THE BALL EFFECTIVELY AGAIN THIS YEAR? Itkin has captured an NCAA indi- vidual championship and an FIE Junior World Championships gold medal since late March. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS Offensive coordinator Chip Long used the spring to work extensively on Notre Dame's passing attack with the hope of creating a more bal- anced offense in 2018. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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