They say a football game isn’t won on Saturday, but in the work put in Monday through Friday. Well, it’s tough to make that translate when game day is Thursday afternoon, but I’ll do my best to try.
The Blue-Gold game was most likely won Tuesday night. That’s when defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, the head coach of the Gold team and an eater that could put Kobayashi on notice, maneuvered to put together a team that offensive coordinator Charley Molnar could not counter. With Friday’s coaching staff lunch on the line, and having personally witnessed Diaco polish off two Filet Mignons and two full plates of pasta at dinner, I’m guessing Diaco’s epic appetite was an imposing figure in the draft room, especially for the Blue head coach that has nine other mouths to feed at home.
At Tuesday night’s dinner in the Monogram Room, Brian Kelly announced the game rosters, alternating between Gold and Blue teams. Here’s one talent evaluator’s breakdown of the rosters:
Keith Arnold: QB/CB -- Schmuck blogger. One of youngest guys in camp, always a plus.
Frank Bagatta: TE/LB -- Old school player with great instincts and better hair.
Country Balitsos: RB/FS -- Second cousin to waterboy Bobby Boucher. A little crazy.
Tom Britz: WR/FS -- Silky smooth athlete who looks 30 years younger than his real age.
Jonathan Brooks: RB/LB -- Bulldozer that battled hamstring injuries throughout camp.
Joe Colgan: TE/LB -- Locker room leader who has a penchant for hoarding socks.
Patrick Dolphin: WR/DB -- Deep threat and shut down corner. Definite RKG.
John Harris: OL/DE -- Jersey’s finest brings an attitude to the trenches.
Bob Johnson: OL/DL -- Tough interior player anchors offensive line.
Larry Leamy: WR/DB -- Elder statesman of the camp just makes big plays in space.
Dave Libs: OL/LB -- Veteran presence brings great intangibles to team.
Scott Litwiller: OL/DL -- Physical force inside, key to line as shotgun snapper.
Bart McGloin: QB/LB -- Veteran QB and Mike backer brings ice-water veins to huddle.
Hubert Oates: RB/LB -- Hard-charging ball carrier and great locker room presence.
Dennis Rios: OL/LB -- Battled through injuries to contribute with solid defensive play.
Bill Robinson: NT/OL: Undersized battler brings smiles to teammates and frowns to enemies.
Tom Tague: OL/DL -- Windy City rookie brings rare blend of youth and power to interior.
Gene Bicego: WR/DB -- Pint-sized receiver with great shake.
Mike Brennen: WR/DB -- Another little guy with wheels. Joey Getherall type player.
PT Brent: WR/DB -- Former Marine who brings leadership to the huddle.
John Paul Condon: TE/LB -- Half of the Canadian contingency for the Blue squad.
Keith Cross: WR/DB -- Boston-based starter that battled injuries and criminal charges.
Gene Faut, Jr.: WR/DB -- Speedster looked to play the role of #1 wide receiver.
Gene Faut, Sr.: WR/DB -- Veteran presence that can make a defense pay.
Rob Gothier: QB/DB -- Hotshot new QB with rocket-arm and a balky hamstring.
Michael Haveard: QB/DB -- Veteran signal caller that brings presence to the field.
Joe Hession: TE/LB -- Veteran player brings old-school attitude to the field.
Tim Kopp: WR/DL: Injuries kept him from contributing on-field, but brings plenty off the field.
Ned Lesnick: RB/LB: Veteran running back dangerous inside the tackles.
Rich Maynhart: OL/DL: Anchor in the middle of line also in charge of shotgun snaps.
Michael O’Donnell: WR/DB -- Veteran from California brings savvy to Blue team attack.
John O’Neill: WR/DB -- Lanky Canadian battled foot injuries to make highlight reel catch.
Rick Peltz: OL/DB -- Longtime player brings size to the trenches.
Terry Philbin: OL/DL -- Monster along the interior, premiere lineman on either roster.
Mark Smith: RB/DL -- Fifth-year camper didn’t let balky knees stop him.
What made game day so special was just how close to script we played things compared to the actual Irish football team. Both teams met for a training table meal at The Gug, where breakfast options were waiting as well as an omelet chef to prepare one of your choice. After that, we broke into team meetings, where Diaco, Chuck Martin, Ed Warinner, Tim Hinton, Jon Carpenter and Scott Booker gave quick pregame talks, as well as going over our keys to success. We knew our offensive line gave us a great chance to get our running game going, and our two corners let us roll a safety down into the box and challenge the Blue team to try and beat us through the air, because they weren’t going to be able to run on us.
After meetings, it was off to the Basilica, where Father Doyle, the team Chaplin for the football team, said mass for us before leaving every team member with a small pendant, just like he does with the football team. From there, we took the same walk from the chapel to the stadium, minus a few thousand screaming fans and a marching band. Even preparing for a game played in front of maybe only a hundred fans, it was pretty hard not to get fired up for the game we were about to play.
Strapped up in the new Irish uniforms and heading down the stairs out of the locker room, we slapped the same Play Like A Champion Today sign that Irish football players have been slapping for years. Introduced on the public address system, running out of that tunnel to your waiting teammates, this was the closest thing to playing for the Irish I’ll ever experience.
As for the game, many of the Gold team’s suspicions came true. With an offensive line that helped game MVP Country Balitsos break two long touchdown runs, and a suffocating pass-rush that kept the Gold Team from getting any type of rhythm going, our offense and defense had dominating performances. Trading off series with Bart at quarterback, I only had the chance to throw the ball once, a quick bubble screen that was a missed tackle away from going the distance, but I ran the option a couple times and moved the team for a touchdown drive capped by a run by tugboat Jonathan Brooks.
On defense, we pitched a shutout, and I nearly took an interception to the house but chose the far sideline instead of the near one, before I was tracked down inside the red zone. Coach Carp’s defense, where we rolled safety Larry Leamy into the flat, worked perfectly with fellow freshman Patrick Dolphin playing a perfect shutdown corner opposite me with our linebackers stuffing the run nearly every carry.
While the lopsided scoreboard made for an anticlimactic finish, the game was a success because nobody got hurt and everybody had fun. Touchdowns by Country, Brooks, and Leamy, plus a couple extra points made by Joe Colgan, put an exclamation point on a perfect draft and game plan by Diaco and company. The defense also held strong after a long catch and throw between Rob Gothier and Jon O’Neill that brought the Blue down to inside the ten, only to be held scoreless.
The scoreboard didn’t matter (26-0! 26-0!), the experience did. That experience was punctuated by an incredible dinner with family and friends at the top of the press box, where Brian Kelly handed out the postgame awards to every player. As a first year camper, I was given a game worn helmet that’ll go next to the rest of the Notre Dame memorabilia on my bookshelf. Sophomores received a monogram jacket with a special Fantasy Camp logo in place of the interlocking ND. Juniors received class rings, which seemed to be the talk of the camp. Seniors, fifth-year players and graduates all received watches and framed photos, an impressive keep sake, especially when you consider that the photos were all taken in the three previous days.
While I’ll continue to call it as I see it, it’s hard for me to do anything but drink the Kool-Aid after spending four days with the coaching staff. To a man, every single guy on staff was great, and they honestly enjoyed every mome nt they spent with us, just as we loved spending it with them. While I never had an experience like this with the previous coaching staff, it’s clear that this group has a great working relationship, is completely on the same page, and that Brian Kelly is a dynamic leader. Whether it was the offensive coaches, the defensive guys, or the dynamic strength and conditioning staff that will be a twelfth man on the field come this fall, I heard from people high and low that this was the group that was going to return Notre Dame to prominence.
We’ll ultimately find out come this September, but for four days in June, Brian Kelly and his staff certainly were perfect.