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What Notre Dame is going to become

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From the South Bend Tribune



December 30. 2005 6:59AM


They're not ready to leave

For six fifth-year seniors, departing is hard because fun's just begun.




Tribune Columnist




TEMPE, Ariz. -- They sense the end now. Their Notre Dame football careers are measured in days.


After enduring the five longest years in the history of the program, they have only four quarters left and no timeouts.


"For the first time," linebacker Brandon Hoyte said, "I stopped and thought that I might just miss this place."


As a class -- and no group deserves that title more -- Notre Dame's departing fifth-year seniors never had much cause for nostalgia.


Now they do.


"We've elevated this program to a level of a BCS bowl where there is no doubt that you're one of the top teams in the nation," Hoyte said. "To see that change over the last few years, that to me is my number one memory."


Before this farewell Fiesta, and the season that preceded it, they really didn't have anything to be wistful about leaving behind.


Now they do.


"It's been so much fun this year," linebacker Corey Mays said, "that you kind of wish you could beg the NCAA for a sixth year."


Fun because they won, of course, but the fifth-year players share a deeper sense of satisfaction.


When they signed national letters of intent in February 2001, Notre Dame was a month removed from the Fiesta Bowl, returning to that elite level for the first time since Lou Holtz left.


Even after an ugly loss to Oregon State, optimism prevailed as a new class arrived in the wake of the BCS appearance.


None of the incoming players imagined as high school dreamers that it would take them five years to get back to the BCS.


Most of the 19 recruits who signed that February never made it.


After Rashon Powers-Neal's dismissal following a DUI charge in October, only six remain on the roster for Monday's game against Ohio State.


Together they have been through more than any football recruiting class in Notre Dame history.


Bob Davie, the coach who recruited them, was fired after their freshman season.


George O'Leary lasted five days as Davie's successor, resigning over the inaccuracies on his resume.


Tyrone Willingham filled that vacuum, but after the initial rush of his first season wore off, the emotional deflation of Notre Dame football continued.


The unprecedented tumult culminated with Willingham's firing, a shock to the program's system, causing chaotic static at first, then a recharging jolt.


Confronting all that turmoil without flinching, the fifth-year seniors developed a bond that goes beyond the usual connection among teammates.


It filtered through the rest of the team to become the animating spirit of the season, adding a feeling of responsibility to each other to their Fiesta Bowl ambition.


"Personally I feel I owe it to the guys that have come before me, guys who I played with and guys who I might not have had the opportunity to meet who played Notre Dame football," Hoyte said, "but most importantly, the guys on this team because those are the individuals who have seen the ups and downs of this program."


As leaders of the most recent climb up, they feel pangs of regret along with their pride.


Regret that, after Monday, they will have to stand back and watch the rest of the construction process rather than continuing to punch the clock.


"It's tough because it's my last year and there's so much positive that's going to happen in the future," Stevenson said. "We're proud that we helped be a building block of what Notre Dame's going to become. It's going to become something special."


To Stevenson, it already has.


He looked around the auditorium at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex a couple weeks ago and rattled off the names of teammates scattered through the room.


"Fasano, Brady, Samardzija, Maurice, Darius ...," he said, "all these guys, we really are a family. I think that's something that's really fed our success."


Charlie Weis vowed to erase any divisions and dissension in the locker room, to create a cohesive mission among them.


His objective, combined with the urgency to succeed among players whose time was running out, forged the closest -- and best -- team at Notre Dame in at least five years.


"That's something I've really appreciated," Stevenson said, "because in my five years here ... it's something that I haven't really experienced to this level."


In relationships and results, their fifth season erased the frustration from the previous four and brought Notre Dame football back to where they found it -- in the Fiesta Bowl.

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Guest irishrick

nice article sj, but i feel that notre dame is just beginning to turn the page back to the level that use to be, I think that the seniors who can will remain for a fifth year if we beat Ohio state, also think that coach weis has done a good job as a first year coach, but I really would like to see what he can do with the people he recruits this year, then i think he will be held in the same group as frank,ara,and Lou, He is definitely a good leader, and is on the borderline of becoming even greater than any of his predators, this will take at least a few years., lets evaluate him after the 06 season has been completed, before we make him the greatest coach in history at notre dame. :) :) go irish.

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