ND notebook: Irish set for 'business trip' to South Florida

ND notebook: Irish set for 'business trip' to South Florida
January 2, 2013, 1:00 am
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JJ Stankevitz

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Notre Dame arrives in South Florida Wednesday afternoon, less than a week from the team's date with Alabama in the BCS Championship. For the trip, coach Brian Kelly instilled an 11 p.m. curfew -- about three hours earlier than what he set last year for Notre Dame's appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl.

"You kinda get that feel for we're here for something bigger than just going out to Disney World and playing in a nice game," offensive lineman Chris Watt said. "We're here to win a national title for the school."

MORE: 'All hands on deck' for lagging Irish special teams

That's not to say Notre Dame went to Orlando in December of 2011 to goof off and then play in a football game, which they ultimately lost to Florida State. But Kelly said he's always wanted to reward his players for making a bowl game by letting them enjoy themselves a bit early in the trip.

"Of course you want to enjoy yourself," wide receiver DaVaris Daniels said. "And being at the Champs Sports Bowl, it's not the National Championship so of course you enjoy yourself, hang out with friends, do whatever."

That's not the case this time around. Nobody needs to remind Notre Dame players of the stakes on Monday, but the 11 p.m. curfew and constant focus on Alabama

"We're there on a business trip," Kelly said. "That's how we approach it they all understand what it's about going down to Miami. It's not enjoy South Beach. This is about preparing for a National Championship."

Watt 'wouldn't mind' move to center

Even with the biggest game Notre Dame has seen in the last 24 years looming, there's been plenty of talk about next year's Irish squad over the last month or so. On Saturday, Kelly singled out a few players who looked good in the first few weeks of December practice -- specifically, quarterback Gunner Kiel, linebacker Jarrett Grace, offensive lineman Conor Hanratty, defensive end Jarron Jones and running back Will Mahone.

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Notre Dame will have to replace Braxston Cave and Mike Golic, Jr. on its offensive line next year, and replacing Cave could mean breaking up Chris Watt and Zack Martin, who paved the way for plenty of Notre Dame's rushing success on the left side of its line.

"Whatever the team needs," Watt said of a potential move to center. "I know Nick Martin's done a great job coming in and playing some center this year, as well as Mark Harrell. It'll be interesting to see during spring ball. I wouldn't mind, but it's another skillset to learn."

While Martin's decision to return was met with plenty of fanfare, Watt -- who has one more year of eligibility left -- didn't get a grand announcement. But in plenty of reports about Martin's return, Watt's name was mentioned next to his in discussing the strength of Notre Dame's 2013 line.

"I think I heard something that Zack and Chris Watt were coming back, so I hope that was my invitation," Watt quipped.

Martin's decision to return wasn't a slam dunk, either -- he was projected as roughly a second-round pick -- but Watt knew before almost everyone else, thanks to Martin signing a lease on an apartment with him for next year.

"He really didn't tell anyone," Watt laughed. "I was like 'I'm pretty sure you're coming back, right?' and he was 'oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you."

Tune-in plug: Notre Dame Bowl Preview show Tuesday at 9 on CSN

Comcast SportsNet will air the debut of our Notre Dame National Championship Bowl Preview program Wednesday at 9 p.m., hosted by Chuck Garfien with Tony Rice -- the last Notre Dame quarterback to win a title -- providing analysis on the 30-minute show. It features a pretty neat segment with Rice walking from the locker room to the field, reminiscing about his playing days at Notre Dame, and features in-depth breakdowns of the Jan. 7 BCS Championship.