ND Notebook: Jones hopes to add to family championship history


ND Notebook: Jones hopes to add to family championship history

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- T.J. Jones often talked with his father, Andre, about continuing the family's championship lineage at Notre Dame. Andre Jones, an outside linebacker on Notre Dame's 1988 title team, passed away in 2011 after suffering a brain aneurysm.

"It's something me and my dad both talked about, and how cool it would be if we both played in the National Championship wearing the same number at the same school," Jones said Friday.

There have been plenty of moments over Notre Dame's 2012 season Jones wished he could've shared with his late father, most notably his game-winning touchdown catch against Stanford. And amid the delirious celebration in Los Angeles after Notre Dame beat USC, Jones wished he could've talked with his father about what was to come in January.

"I wish I could've called him and I guess talk for hours about what we were going to do, how crazy it was that we're both going to be in the National Championship and really celebrate those moments with him," Jones said.

Jones has rarely spoken about his father's death, save for one day last year. It's an understandably sensitive issue, although he was prepared for questions about it from the throngs of media circulating through the Harbor Beach Marriott on Friday. But to his credit, he handled the questions on a difficult topic with maturity.

"I feel he's here with me every day," Jones explained. "I feel like he's watching over me, he's watching over Notre Dame and my family as well."

Irish add Redfield to nation's top recruiting class

Notre Dame ascended to the top of Rivals.com's class of 2013 recruiting rankings by securing the commitment of five-star safety Max Redfield, who announced his decision Friday night at the Under Armour All-American Bowl in Tampa. The Mission Viejo, Calif., native had been committed to USC until visiting Notre Dame three weeks ago, after which he decommitted.

Redfield is the third five-star player to commit to Notre Dame for its 2013 recruiting class, joining running back Greg Bryant and linebacker Jaylon Smith. The safety said Notre Dame's success played a major role in his commitment -- and it's probably fair to say USC's 7-6 season, in which they became the first preseason No. 1 to fall out of the AP top 25 since 1964, was a factor as well.

Dispatches from practice

Members of the media were allowed to view 15 minutes of Notre Dame's practice Friday -- the final practice viewing before Monday's game -- and saw a few noteworthy plays as the Irish try to find the end zone more often.

Notre Dame ran a fake field goal and offered a few wildcat and different zone readoption looks near the goal line, signaling the team is trying some new looks to improve one of the worst red zone touchdown rates in the nation. We may not see these exact plays on Monday -- it'd be a shock if the Irish ran a fake field goal -- but the overarching theme here is that, with 43 days to prepare, Notre Dame's going to try some different stuff by the goal line.

"We needed a good day today. It was hotter today and we pushed our guys. I thought that they responded very well," coach Brian Kelly said. "We only went an hour and fifteen minutes today. Im pleased with back-to-back days where we got a lot of work done. Were ready to play. We have one more day tomorrow and well clean some things up and some situational and well get ready to play Alabama in a great game."

Alabama's Square holds connection to Notre Dame

A few players on Notre Dame and Alabama were recruited by both schools, with George Atkinson III and Jones being two on the Irish side. Damion Square is on the flip side of that, choosing Alabama over Notre Dame as a three-star defensive end out of Houston in the class of 2008.

One of Square's relatives went to Notre Dame, and he's taken a visit to South Bend for a game.

"It's a great place with great tradition similar to Alabama," Square said. "At the time Charlie Weis was the coach, and they had a great program going on at the university, I just felt like Alabama was a better fit for me. But Notre Dame is a great place. They have a lot of pride in what they're trying to do up there, and they've been trying to get to this point for a while, and they're here, and I'm pretty sure that they're going to try to come and take advantage of this opportunity."

DeShone Kizer stays the same leader for new group of Notre Dame teammates

DeShone Kizer stays the same leader for new group of Notre Dame teammates

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A number of teammates took the field for the first time with DeShone Kizer during the cacophony of Sunday night’s atmosphere at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. And much as Kizer did last year, he led the Irish offense with a certain kind of poise and mentality that deftly toes the line between confident and cocky. 

“When we were down by two touchdowns or when it was tied, he had the same demeanor,” sophomore receiver C.J. Sanders said. “That really speaks volumes about him as a man.”

Kizer wowed his teammates a year ago when he subbed in for the injured Malik Zaire and threw a game-winning touchdown to Will Fuller. It wasn’t just for the throw, but it was also for the way in which the quarterback conducted himself in a hostile, pressure-packed environment. 

Last year’s Irish offense, though, was loaded with leaders. Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Chris Brown were pillars on that team, and there were veterans all around like Fuller, C.J. Prosise, Steve Elmer and Amir Carlisle. 

Notre Dame only returned a handful of upperclassmen who played on that 2015 team in Kizer, Torii Hunter Jr., Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson (running back Tarean Folston was injured in Week 1 against Texas, and tight end Durham Smythe missed the remainder of the regular season after an injury in Week 2). 

So that meant there was quite a bit of inexperience permeating Notre Dame’s offense Sunday night. But some of those greenhorns said Kizer’s composure and confidence helped them ease into a roaringly-intense evening. 

“When we were down, he brought us together and said we’re going to drive and score and come back,” sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown said, adding that message from Kizer gave him and the rest of the Irish offense a confidence boost in the second half. 

“What young guys typically don’t understand when they go into that environment is that it’s not too much different from what you’re doing in practice,” Kizer said. “When you step in front of 100,000 people, there’s a lot of noise and that could definitely create some adrenaline. But other than that, we’re playing the same game that we’ve been playing all summer. 

“The plays have been made time and time again all offseason and just understanding that when they’re out there, they’re expected to make those same exact plays and all they have to do is do that and do that well. You don’t have to go out there and be someone else. We have a really good coaching staff who put you in good positions to make big plays and all you have to do is execute what they say.” 

Leadership is one of those nebulous things every football player and coach will tell you is necessary, but it’s a quality that’s impossible to quantify. It’s not an end-all, be-all for an offense or defense — Notre Dame, after all, didn’t score when it got the ball back after Jarron Jones’ miraculous blocked PAT, which probably had more to do with the loss of Hunter Jr. than anything else — but it is something that can be pointed to as an asset in close games. 

And with Kizer quarterbacking the offense, Notre Dame has to feel confident in its ability to hang in close games. It still needs its special teams, defense (which was primarily behind recent losses to Stanford and Texas) and coaching (behind the loss to Clemson) to come through, but the next time Notre Dame finds itself in a high-pressure, hostile situation, it can count on Kizer to keep things calm. 

And that counts for something, whatever the extent of it is. 

“Before the game he kind of talked to us, got in front of us and told us hey, I don’t care how young you are, I know you guys can make plays,” Sanders said. “So just hearing that from him developed a comfort level to know that he can depend on us. Hearing that from him really made a big difference.” 

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola didn't have the season they were hoping for in 2015-16 but they're optimistic that things can turn around for the upcoming season. Even though the Loyola roster is filled with newcomers, the Ramblers are hopeful that a summer trip to Spain can help give them a head start.

As part of the trip, Loyola will get 10 extra practices and four games against Spanish competition that will give the team some much-needed experience before practice officially begins in October.

Head coach Porter Moser is already happy about working with this group, which features some productive returnees and a lot of talented newcomers.

"We play four games over there. They get that feel of being coached in a game at this level with their teammates," Moser said. "So then when we start back up in October they have a sense of some of the things we're trying to teach, some of the things of what to expect. And I think that's such a big element."

On a team full of new players, it will be important for senior guard Milton Doyle to have a bounce-back year for Loyola after a disappointing junior campaign. A former star at Marshall, Doyle saw his shooting percentages dip last season as the Loyola coaching staff challenged him to improve for his final season of college basketball. 

Moser is happy with the strides that Doyle has made this summer as he's added over 10 pounds of muscle to now play at 192 pounds. Also committed on the defensive end of the floor and being a team leader, Doyle is the Ramblers' only senior this season, so he'll be counted on to be a productive presence.

"It's a lot this year just because we had four seniors leave last year and I'm the last senior," Doyle said. "So it's my job to make sure everyone stays on track and everyone is uplifted, even when coaches get on them. That's my job right now."

Junior wing Donte Ingram — a former Simeon product — and junior guard Ben Richardson also return as key contributors from last year's team while Iowa State transfer guard Clayton Custer is expected to come in and be a major factor in the team's backcourt rotation.

As for the newcomers, Moser compared juco transfer forward Aundre Jackson favorably to former Loyola forward Christian Thomas while Vlatko Granic gives the team a stretch option at forward that they didn't have in the past. The team's freshmen are also very talented as guard Matt Chastain has shown solid athleticism and a good basketball IQ through some early practices. 

Another freshman guard, Cameron Satterwhite, is coming off of a torn ACL that cost him his senior season, but the Loyola staff is optimistic about his recovery for this season. Croatian freshman guard Bruno Skokna is also recovering from injury as he has played against professionals in Europe the last few seasons on an amateur contract. He is expected to be cleared soon so that he can return to action this season.

"I love this group because it's a group full of gym rats. This is a really enthusiastic group," Moser said. "They've come together, we've got a lot of newcomers. That's the benefit, that's why we did the Spain trip this summer."

Loyola takes its trip to Spain from Aug. 12-22 as they'll hit cities like Barcelona and Madrid during the trip.